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British Historian Defends Pius XII

Martin Gilbert Presents Book on the Holocaust’s Heroes

ROME, JAN. 29, 2007 ( A leading historian of World War II has just published a book which documents the action of the Church and Pope Pius XII in rescuing Jews from Nazi persecution.

Sir Martin Gilbert’s “I Giusti, gli eroi sconosciuti dell’Olocausto” (The Righteous, Unknown Heroes of the Holocaust) was published by Città Nuova and presented in Rome last Wednesday.

Gilbert, 70, is a professor of the history of the Holocaust at University College, London, and the author of 72 books. Known as the official biographer of Winston Churchill, he was knighted in 1995 for his service to British history and international relations.

The presentation ceremony enabled top Holy See representatives, historians and Jewish representatives to hear the conclusions of the Jewish author.

This book says that the “‘righteous’ … are those non-Jewish men and women throughout Europe who broke the chains of indifference, egoism and individualism and saved a great number of Jews from Nazi extermination, risking their own lives and that of their relatives.”

He who saves

In the inside cover of the book, Gilbert notes that in the Talmud it is written that “he who saves a life, saves the whole world,” and that this is the reason why the Holocaust History Museum at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial remembers and honors the “righteous.”

On presenting Gilbert’s book, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, explained that the Jews’ history “is a history of the good, or rather a current of good that runs through humanity regardless of religious differences.”

The cardinal specified that “Christians, among them many Catholics, and also Muslims, accepted — at the cost of their own lives — to save Jews from the Shoah. This was a great war, carried out without proclamations, manifestos, theories or rhetoric and these ‘righteous’ fought it at times against the conventions and prejudices of their own environment.”

In this connection, Cardinal Bertone highlighted the role played by Poland, where it is estimated that 1 million citizens were involved in saving Jews.

“It is often forgotten that Poland was the only country where the death penalty was in force for helping Jews,” said the cardinal. He recalled the story of the Ulma family, whose process of beatification is under way in the Diocese of Przemsyl.

Jozef Ulma and his wife Wiktoria and seven children (one still in the womb) were killed March 24, 1944, in the village of Markowa, for having hidden eight Jews in their home.

With reference to the Church’s intervention, especially Pius XII’s, the cardinal said that it was not just a question “of organizing bureaucratically the search for the dispersed and assistance to prisoners. They were helped in every way possible.”


In regard to those who accuse Pius XII of silence in the face of anti-Jewish persecution, Cardinal Bertone pointed out: “It is clear that Pope Pacelli was not about silence but about intelligent and strategic speaking, as demonstrated in the 1942 Christmas radio message which infuriated Hitler.

“The proofs are in the Vatican archives, where one finds, for example, the 1928 declaration of the former Holy Office, very simple and very clear, condemning anti-Semitism, a document that was totally forgotten, as if the condemnation of anti-Semitism was only that of Vatican II.

“The history one reads in Martin Gilbert’s volume should also be known for another reason; because it is not only the history of those proclaimed righteous before the world, but also the history of those many other ‘implicit righteous,’ who were not honored because their historical memory was lost.”

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