What Pope Pius XII Did and Said
For the cause of the Jewish people in their time of distress
At the time, the notion that Pius XII was sympathetic with the Nazi regime in any form would have seemed incomprehensible both to the Nazis or to the Italian Fascists, and their collaborators throughout Europe. They knew, as we do, that Pope Pius XII was one of their most determined opponents. And the false accusation of criminal indifference to the plight of the victims of genocide would have stunned the tens of thousands of Jews whose lives were saved by the direct and personal intervention of the pope.
What the Pope Say and Do?
First we will briefly look at what he did:
In the autumn of 1940, Pope Pius XII won the release of about five hundred Jewish refugees who had been captured by Italian Fascists and were about to be handed over to the Germans.
Pius XII built a settlement camp for the refugees in southern Calabria, where he fed, clothed, and protected them throughout the war. The men of the British 8th Army discovered the camp on December 23, 1943, and from the inmates themselves heard the story of how they had been saved by the Pope. A few days latter the 8th Army was greeted at Ferramonti – Tarsia near Cosenza by thirty-two hundred Jews, the entire population of another settlement camp under Vatican protection.
When Adolf Eichmann sent twenty-two thousand Hungarian Jews on the “Death-March”, the Papal Nuncio in Budapest, Monsignor Angelo Rotta, immediately organized a relief convoy of food and medicine and ordered it to go after the exhausted, undernourished Jews.
In anticipation of the Nazis, Pope Pius XII sent out a letter to the Bishops of Italy urging them “to save human lives by all means.” He lifted the rule of enclosure so that cloistered convents and monasteries could hide Jews within sacred precincts where even the families of the monks and nuns could not set a foot.
When in October 16th, 1943, the Nazi roundup of Rome’s Jews began in earnest. There were an estimated ninety-five hundred Jews in the city at the time. Three Nazi police squads fanned out through Rome, yet only 1,259 people were taken. The overwhelming majority of Jews were already hiding in the Vatican itself and in 155 Roman monasteries, convents, and Churches.
The rescue effort was extraordinary. Consider, for example, the Pope’s Palatine Guard. In 1942, it numbered three hundred men. By December 1943, there were four thousand names on the rols, of all of them carrying the invaluable papal passport. At least four hundred of these “guards” were Jews, of whom approximately 240 were sheltered inside Vatican City. An estimated three thousand Jews lived outside the city at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. In all, some forty thousand Jews throughout Italy were saved from the Nazis.
Clearly then the heroism of Pope Pius XII during the war was nothing less than extraordinary. Any charge of indifferentism to the fate of the Jews is purely a fantasy as is evident from the facts. Actions speak louder than words! Nevertheless Pope Pius XII was indeed outspoken on against the Nazis, yet, he never failed to prudently weigh his words for the sake of those whose lives might be in great peril. Pius XII was a realist and he knew all to well that a simple excommunication would not have stopped men who were had no scruple in putting to death their own fellow countrymen, not to mention the fact, that an excommunication to one who is already outside the Church simply have proven pointless.
Nevertheless let us look at what Pope Pius XII did say:
“With profound pain the Holy See has learnt that in Slovakia, a country whose virtually total population honors the best Catholic traditions, a ‘Government Ordinances’ has been published . . . which sets down a special ‘racial legislation’ containing various provisions which are in open contrast to Catholic principles.” – Pp Pius XII to Karl Sidor, Slovak Minister to the Holy See, protesting anti-Jewish legislation in Slovakia, November 12, 1941.
His Holiness Secretariat of State trust that such painful and unjust measures against persons belonging to the Hebrew race cannot be approved by a government which is proud of its Catholic heritage” – Pius XII, Second Protest to the Slovak government upon learning that fifty-two thousand Slovak Jews were marked for deportation to labour camps in Poland, March 14, 1942.
“It is not correct to suppose that deported Jews are sent for labour service, the truth is that they are being annihilated.” - – Pius XII, Second Protest to the Slovak government upon learning that fifty-two thousand Slovak Jews were marked for deportation to labour camps in Poland, March 14, 1942.
“We address your Highness personally, appealing to your noble sentiments in full confidence that you will do everything in your power that so many unfortunate people may be spared other afflictions and other sorrows.” – Pius XII, Telegram to Admiral Nicholas Horthy, Regent of Hungary, begging him to spare the Jews of Budapest, June 25, 1944.
“We leave it to the [Local] bishops to weigh the circumstances in deciding whether or not to exercise restraint, ad majora mala [to avoid greater evil]. This would be advisable if the danger of retaliatory and coercive measures would be imminent in the cases of public statements of the bishops. Here lies one of the reason we ourselves restrict our public statements. The experience we had in 1942 with documents which we released for distribution to the faithful gives justification, as far as we can see, four our attitude. – Pius XII, to Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, on the murder of Dutch Jews by the Nazis in retaliation for the Catholic bishops of Holland’s public condemnation of Nazism’s persecution of the Jews, 1943.
“Tell your bosses, the Pope is not afraid of concentration camps.” – Pius XII, to a deputy of S. S. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert kappler, chief of Gestapo forces in Nazi-occupied Rome, 1943.