Pius XII Feared Backlash Against Jews

Knew That a Protest Would Cost Lives, Says Book

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 29, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Was Pius XII´s «silence» during World War II really a way of helping Jews more effectively?

This and other questions are studied in a new book published in Italy, which offers previously unpublished details.

«Pius XII, Pope of the Jews» («Pio XII. Papa degli ebrei,» published by Piemme), was written by Andrea Tornielli, Vatican correspondent for the Milanese newspaper Il Giornale. The author reconstructs the debate around Pope Eugenio Pacelli.

The Jewish world praised Pius XII in his lifetime and after his death. But his reputation has been attacked following the publication of the 1960s play «The Vicar,» and, more recently, British writer John Cornwell´s book «Hitler´s Pope.»

According to the new book, Pius XII at one point told Father Pirro Scavizzi, a priest who was gathering information on those persecuted by the Nazis: «After many tears and many prayers, I decided that my protest would have stirred the most ferocious anger against the Jews, multiplying cruel acts, as they are defenseless. Perhaps my protests would have earned me the praise of the civil world, but it would have caused the poor Jews an even more implacable persecution than the one they were already suffering.»

Below is a Vatican Radio interview with author Andrea Tornielli.

–Q: How can Pius XII´s silence be explained?

–Tornielli: The documents clearly show that the «silence was not really silence.» In the book, I quote all the passages of the radio messages in which Pope Pacelli explicitly affirmed very clear issues. In any case, Pius XII did not denounce Hitler publicly because he tried to save the greatest possible number of human lives.

Thanks to his prudent attitude, the Church, nuncios and the Vatican were able to save, as Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide estimates, some 850,000 Jews from persecution and death.

–Q: One of the most interesting aspects covered in the book is the one referring to a document in which Pope Pacelli condemned Nazism; a document that he later preferred to burn, after seeing what happened in Holland. Are there proofs of the existence of this document?

–Tornielli: In 1942, the Pope was about to publish a very strong document against the Nazis, against Hitler, against the persecution of Jews, but he was profoundly affected by what happened in Holland. In that country, following the bishops´ protest, the persecutions against the Jews worsened.

The proof of the existence of this document comes from many witnesses, such as Sister Pasqualina Lehnert, Sister Konrada Grabmeier, Father Robert Leiber, and also French Cardinal Eugène Tisserant.

These witnesses revealed that the Pope had written that document and that he decided to burn it himself in the kitchen, and stayed until it was completely destroyed. His distress over the Dutch case was so profound that he preferred to burn it rather than cause further harm to the Jews.

–Q: You also mention Pacelli´s warning to Archbishop Theodor Innitzer of Vienna in 1938, when he was still Vatican secretary of state.

–Tornielli: The Innitzer case is very interesting, because that year this archbishop, together with other Austrian prelates, had enthusiastically welcomed Hitler´s arrival. Well, Eugenio Pacelli and Pius XI called Innitzer urgently to Rome.

Pacelli was very dispassionate and obliged Innitzer to sign a retraction in his presence, which was published in L´Osservatore Romano. This demonstrates that both Pacelli and the Pope, who at that time was Pius XI, rejected the position of the Austrian Church.

–Q: You also speak about a plot against Hitler supported by Pius XII.

–Tornielli: It´s a very important case. In November 1939, and the early months of 1940, some German generals attempted to bring down Hitler´s regime and institute democracy again. The Germans had the news reach Rome and the Pope committed himself personally, at great risk, to take the steps to have the news reach the English and American Allies. Then, those generals were unable to do anything, but the Pope took an active part in this plan.

–Q: Why is the Pope now being accused of coexisting with Nazism?

–Tornielli: a real «black legend» has been created, which has nothing to do with the historical discussion. One thing is to seriously debate on the Pope´s attitude and the reasons why he decided not to make a public denunciation; and another, and very different, is to try to make him a scapegoat.

This is what has been done to Pius XII. It must be recognized that the Pope did everything possible, while others did not do what they could have done.

–Q: In doing your research, what action of Pius XII impressed you most?

–Tornielli: There are many actions: the negotiations he carried out, using all possible and imaginable channels to stop the inspection of Jews in Rome´s ghettos, the precise instructions given to the nuncios, without forgetting the fact that he himself sold family assets, and sent the money to the nuncios to alleviate the sufferings of the Jews.

In addition, Pope Pacelli´s revelation to Father Pirro Scavizzi, the chaplain who went through Europe gathering news on the persecuted, is important. Pius XII said: «Tell them that the Pope suffers with them, he suffers with the persecuted and that, if at times he doesn´t raise his voice more, it is only not to cause worse evils.»

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