On Pius XII's Help to Slovakian Jews

Interview With Monsignor Walter Brandmuller

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- A new book attests to the Holy See’s intervention to prevent the persecution of Jews in Slovakia during World War II.

«The Holocaust in Slovakia and the Catholic Church» («L’Olocausto nella Slovacchia e la Chiesa Cattolica»), written by Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, was published last July in an Italian translation by the Vatican Publishing House.

Through meticulous historical research, including the use of previously unpublished documents, the book analyzes the position of the Church and the Holy See in the face of the wartime persecution of Jews.

Q: Your book recounts the history of Slovakia in a historical period that goes from 1939 to 1945, analyzing how the Church intervened to rescue Jews persecuted by the Nazis. Can you explain the conclusions you reached in your research?

Monsignor Brandmuller: In my book I attempt, above all, with the necessary brevity, to describe the political, social and religious situation of Slovakia between 1939 and 1945, and to study at the same time the famous persecution measures against Jews.

When speaking later of the reaction of the Catholic Church, I make a distinction between the Church in Slovakia and the Pope, that is, the Holy See.

In regard to the reaction of the Slovakian bishops, clergy and faithful, it is interesting to note that, on one hand, there was inflamed bad humor toward the influence — perceived as excessive — of the Jewish section of the population on the economic life of Slovakia. And, on the other, there was a change in this atmosphere in favor of the Jews as soon as the persecution measures were introduced.

Evidently, a distinction must be made here between the large Catholic population and the numerically reduced realm of the nationalists-National Socialists. The latter were on the side of the German National Socialists.

Q: What are the novelties in the historical field contained in your book?

Monsignor Brandmuller: Again in this book there is the fact, for example, that for the first time the texts of communications of the Slovakian bishops are presented, in the form of translations and original documents.

Moreover, it has been possible to analyze documents collected in the Archives of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesial Questions which are still not available for publication. Also the «Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale,» already published in 1970-1981, have been used for the first time.

From these sources stems, among other points, a very differentiated assessment of the role that the president of the Slovakian republic, Josef Tiso, a Catholic priest, played in this context.

Q: What was the policy that Pius XII and the Holy See adopted in face of the persecuted, and in what way did they intervene to save the Jews?

Monsignor Brandmuller: The Holy See’s policy — or rather Pope Pius XII’s — consisted in influencing the Slovakian government, through diplomatic channels, in order to impede the persecution of Jews and, in particular, to impede deportations to Polish extermination camps.

In this respect, Vatican diplomacy carried out, under Secretary of State Cardinal [Luigi] Maglione and — after his death which occurred in 1944 — under Monsignor Tadini, an excellent role.

Q: What objectives do you hope to achieve with the publication and diffusion of this book?

Monsignor Brandmuller: A careful and impartial reading of the book makes one understand how the appropriate interpretation of the sources lets the contribution of Pius XII and Vatican diplomacy be seen in the just light of rescue of the Jews, against all the accusations and suspicions that have existed.

The gratitude and acknowledgment of the help given to Jews expressed to Pius XII by Jews, both when he was alive as well as after his death, were, therefore, well motivated. Only Rolf Hochhuth’s «Vicar» has poured against him what had until then been the positive opinion of the people. One should ask: Why?

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