It has been said that Pope Pius XII, during World War II, did not do much to help the Jewish people, who were victims of Hitler’s Nazi terrorism. Pius is portrayed to have seemingly turned a blind eye while the Jews suffered terrible persecutions under Adolf Hitler. This charge, like many other allegations against the Church, is simply not true.
Pope Pius, in reality did quite a lot to protest the Nazi cause, and also made extreme efforts to save the lives of the Jews. Fr. Leo Chamberlain, in his article, The end of the ‘Hitler’s Pope’ myth, writes:
“This is a good moment to mark the Church’s witness against Nazism. Eighty years ago, on March 14, 1937, Pope Pius XI issued Mit Brennender Sorge (“With Burning Anxiety”), an encyclical, pointedly written in German, condemning Nazism. “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the state, and divinises them to an idolatrous level, perverts an order of the world created by God,” the pope wrote.
“Pius XI’s secretary of state was Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII. He distributed the text, which he had helped to draft, secretly within Germany. Four years earlier, in 1933, he had negotiated a concordat between the Holy See and Germany, not to appease Nazism but to have some means of holding the Nazis to account through an international treaty. The regime referred to him as “Jew loving”: he had made more than 50 protests against Nazi policy, the earliest coming just days after the passing of the Enabling Act, which granted Hitler the power to enact laws without Reichstag approval. Pacelli was regarded as so anti-Nazi that the Third Reich attempted to prevent his election as pope in 1939.” (1)
In his encyclical Summi Pontificatus, Pope Pius XII asked that all Catholics “will be mindful in imitation of the Divine Samaritan, of all these who, as victims of the war, have a right to compassion and help.” (2)
Pius is writing of all the victims of the war, especially the Jews, that they may receive aid.
Mgr. Jean Bernard, a former inmate of Dachau, accounts of the reaction to any Vatican protests against Nazism:
“The detained priests trembled every time news reached us of some protest by a religious authority, but particularly by the Vatican. We all had the impression that our warders made us atone heavily for the fury these protests evoked … whenever the way we were treated became more brutal, the Protestant pastors among the prisoners used to vent their indignation on the Catholic priests: ‘Again your big naive Pope and those simpletons, your bishops, are shooting their mouths off .. why don’t they get the idea once and for all, and shut up. They play the heroes and we have to pay the bill.'” (3)
From reading this far, one gets the idea that Pope Pius XII adequately spoke out against the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews. But the pope did much more than merely condemn Nazi behavior.
Robert A. Graham S.J., writes:
“In 1943 the German ambassador to the Holy See, Von Weizsaecker, sent a telegram to Berlin. The telegram has been cited as damning ‘evidence’ against Pius XII.
” ‘Although under pressure from all sides, the Pope has not let himself be drawn into any demonstrative censure of the deportation of Jews from Rome … As there is probably no reason to expect other German actions against the Jews of Rome we can consider that a question so disturbing to German-Vatican relations has been liquidated.’
“Von Weizsaecker’s telegram was in fact a warning not to proceed with the proposed deportation of the Roman Jews: ‘there is probably no reason to expect other German actions against the Jews of Rome’. Von Weizsaecker’s action was backed by a warning to Hitler from Pius XII: if the pursuit and arrest of Roman Jews was not halted, the Holy Father would have to make a public protest. together the joint action of Von Weizsaecker and Pius XII ended the Nazi manhunt against the Jews of Rome. 7,000 lives were saved.” (4)
In addition to this accomplishment, a near 80,000 baptismal certificates were issued by Church authorities, under the pope’s direction, to Hungarian Jews. The baptismal certificates made it appear that the Jews were actually Catholics, thus saving them from the Nazis. (5)
Venerable Pope Pius XII did quite a lot of good for the Jews, protecting many of them from the Nazis, despite what many may want one to believe today. There should be no question about his character and courage, especially when confronted by the power of Nazi Germany.
Albert Einstein, who had escaped Nazi Germany, said in 1940:
“Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth … I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.” (6)
Pius should be viewed not as Pontus Pilate, who allowed Christ to be crucified, but as a hero, who took extreme efforts to save the Jews.
— Patrick E. Devens
O Venerable Pope Pius XII, who had on earth great courage to preach the word of God, vigor to repel the enemies of the Church, and zeal for the Holy Name, pray for us poor sinners. May we, O Pius, have a double portion of thy righteous qualities in defense of our holy Church. May we never abandon our duty to defend the faith, with fortitude, wherever we are and in whatever state God hath put us. Venerable Pius, may we, like thee, show the radiant glory of our Holy Lord in everything we do and say. And this, through the graciousness of the Divine Majesty, to Whom we humbly ask thee to pray for our benefit and protection.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.