DER SPIEGEL magazine - Cover Story
Nr. 43 / 1997
A Real Disgrace
Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust
by Rudolf Augstein
The time of the great settling of accounts has passed. Now that most of those guilty for the destruction of the Jewish people are dead or as good as dead, the time of half -hearted apologies has begun.
The Catholic bishops in French Drancy confined themselves to the 16 Diocese, in which the former concentration camps were situated, to read an explanation in which the official Catholic Church for the first time expressed her "regrets" over past "mistakes."
A new high point for excuse-making (literally "apologies") will possibly take place in a convent in Rome between the 30th October and the 1st of November . The present Pope, John Paul II, ("Abortion is execution") will - according to the Rome daily, "La Repubblica" in reference to Vatican circles - speak a "festive mea culpa" about the "Sin of Anti-Judaism," which the Church committed for centuries.
As Christian Anti-Judaism was not racial and not racially motivated the present "Vicar of Christ on Earth" will not have to occupy himself particularly with the deeds and omissions of his predecessor, Pope Pius XII. Here the discussion would have been explosive, and therefore they will seek to avoid it.
Never, until the case of Rolf Hochhut had the Church taken a stand against any single author, as did Pope Paul VI, regarding the Holy City of Jerusalem. Hochhut had committed an offence by taking the "Vicar of Christ" seriously.
If a "mea culpa" from the Church, and especially from this Pope is improbable, he will fall back on saving provisos, which have been preserved for hundreds of years, by means of which crimes of the Church and their expiation are for ever guarded.
Today these saving provisos interest almost nobody. On the other hand, a lecture by an American professor and rabbi, David Blumenthal, to the Papal Gregorian University at the end of September, brought some matters to light. During this gathering in Rome, he brought up for discussion among other subjects, if, and under what conditions an intervention by Pope Pius XII - born Eugenio Pacelli - could have saved at least a third of the murdered Jews.
That he might have saved a third could have been true. But Blumenthal is mistaken if he thinks that had the Pope excommunicated Hitler, (who until he seized power had paid the Church Tax) and other prominent Catholic Nazis from the Church, he could have prevented anything. Just as the Fuhrer himself did not leave the Roman Catholic Church, he also admonished his deputies, who were officially attached to the Church , not to leave.
Hitler must have known instinctively, that in the face of the declared opposition of both Churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church, he would be unable to realize both his actual goals (which he made known long before he seized power) : The War of Destruction against the Soviet Union, and the Extermination of European Jewry,
So it was that on the 20th July 1933, the Reich entered into an accord with the Curie, from which he (Hitler) rightly deduced that he would gain advantage. Beforehand , the Vatican had set wide-ranging demands, in order to thwart Hitler's desire. The agreement of the Center Party to the Empowerment Act made it possible for Hitler, with the help of its support to carry out the negotiations for the Accord. Finally, he succeeded in dissolving the Catholic parties and in excluding the clerics from politics.
There was a pen-wielding man in Rome, who knew Germany and Italy equally well: the then 57 year old Cardinal Secretary of State, Pacelli. As an Italian he was also obliged to love Italy . But until his death in 1958, he certainly loved Germany - not only Hitler's Reich. It appears that Pacelli, under the official sanction of his predecessor, Pius XI, gained an entry into the European Parlor.
He had occupied himself with German affairs since the time that he was the Papal Nuncio in the Bavarian Capital, Munchen, in 1917, and from 1925 until 1929 when he was the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, from whence the Vatican recalled him to Rome. It must have been difficult for the young, important, and majestic-looking up and coming diplomat even to dream that he would one day be in the center of the worst Papal crisis of the 20th century.
Would he as Pope Pius XII indeed have been able to save the Jews who were threatened by the holocaust from their terrible fate, and could he really have saved half of them? It cannot be proved, but there are deep inward convictions that he could have done so.
Until today, the official answer of the Church is still the same: Overt Papal intervention would have made the situation of the Jews much worse. Even Pacelli himself, who was chosen in the third round of voting as the successor to Pope Pius XI on 2nd March 1939, adopted the attitude in 1942, when a representation of American and other diplomats requested him to speak out on the fate of the Jews, that this was not for diplomatic confrontation. How he could still see himself as "The Representative of Christ on earth," we can only leave to the inaccessible psychology of the Papacy. That Pope Pius the XII , as a human being ,could not have wanted Hitler's war- plans, goes without saying.
One of the most lively and temperamental encyclicals of Pope Pius XI published in March 1937 and entitled "0f deepest concern" was directly aimed at Hitlerism and godlessness. The word Jew or Anti-semitism was not mentioned.
One year later he commissioned another project for a further encyclical "the Oneness of the Human Race." Racism , so the conclusion stated, stood in opposition to the Catholic faith and moral philosophy.
People heaped "injustice upon injustice, unkindness upon unkindness" and side-lined the Jews or fully oppressed them. The transmission of this comprehensive work through official channels was so long delayed, and in the meantime Pope Pius XI became increasingly weaker, and died on 10th February 1939.
It is still disputed as to why Pope Pius XII (who as a Cardinal and State Secretary, intensified the Papal encyclical "Of deepest Concern") did not promulgate the follow-up encyclical. The head of the Jesuits, Ledochowski, a Pole, is said to have dissuaded him from publishing it. Pope Pius XII was always susceptible to diplomatic objections. The Pope really believed that through this he could do something for peace which was in fact honorable, but falsely reasoned out . In addition, the Holy See saw discriminatory laws against the Jews as not being in contradiction to Catholic teaching, at least not in peace-time. For the Episcopacy, and from a Church point of view, the Jews were not a group that was dear to their hearts.
Admittedly, the war had placed the Church in a number of straight jackets, and Pope Pius XII did not see himself as the man who could set her free. He himself, the Curia, the Holy See, remained neutral during the whole war, and there was only one personal act of intervention from Pope XII . In 1940, as Hitler invaded the three neutral countries, Holland , Belgium and Luxembourg, the Pope expressed his regret to the Governments, but did not name the aggressor. In that way he justified himself before the German Bishops, who had hailed the attack. He did this in a way that was typical of him: All three States had Papal Nuncios who were accredited to the Vatican. So he had the right to express his sympathy to these formally neutral nations. When the Italian Government also reproached him and threatened to forbid the sale of the half-official L'Ossevatore Romano, the Pope decreed : The Vatican Radio and the Osservatore Romano would only publish neutral news.
He remained silent when the SS, under the noses of the Wehrmacht, committed atrocities in Poland, in which not a few Catholic Priests were killed. We really believe Guido Kopp's recent television film, broadcast by "Arte," which stated that Pacelli was horrified over this. But only to be horrified is not enough.
In his first Christmas message, Pacelli tried to formulate his understanding of his office:
"As concerning our office and likewise the times in which we live, we feel that we have no other obligation than to testify to the Truth with apostolic firmness" Testimonium perhibere veritati. This duty of necessity includes in its scope the exposure and rebuttal of errors and human failures.
caption reads - Poster for Referendum with Hitler,Chief of State Esser, Papal Nuncio Torregrossa, (1933)
(the German on the picture caption reads)
A happy moment at the laying of the foundation-stone for the German Art Center.
The Papal Nuncio Sasallo di Torregrossa speaking to the Fuhrer:
"I didn't understand you for a long time.
I have thought a lot about it ,
Today I understand you"
Today every other German Catholic also understands and votes on 12th November
In the Box - The Bishops could not have refused to have the Encyclical read.
He did not act in accordance with this, as one can gather from another Christmas message two years later, when the Strike Commandos (special killing squads) of the SD** went on the rampage in the Soviet Union.
The Christian moral code should be like a lighthouse, with the outshining of its principles, steering the deeds of men and nations , who should obey its warning, wholesome and profitable instruction.
What authority the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church, (considering that a quarter of the members of the German SS were Catholics), could have exercised at that time, was shown by the only order for mass-murder that Hitler ever signed to exterminate those who were unworthy to live.
Clemens August Graf von Galen, and Bishop of Munster, expressed what his colleagues had condemned in a sharp letter of protest to Hanns Kerrl, the Minister of State for Church Affairs. In a sermon on the 3rd August 1941, six weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, he warned that soon all "unproductive members of society," the frail elderly, invalids, the sick and even war-disabled would be threatened with extermination.
It was demanded that the Bishop be arrested, even liquidated, and Joseph Goebbels, who knew the Catholic Rheinland well, wrote in his diary, that the whole of Westfalia would be lost for National Socialism (Nazism) if anything was done to harm the Bishop.
The stand that he took earned for Galen the name of "The Lion of Munster," even beyond the borders of his Bishopric, and he was looked upon as an opponent of National Socialism, which he had never been. He was, however, a courageous and proud man.
Here we see the limits of the Hitler Regime. To have liquidated a man like Galen would have meant that convinced Nazi Bishops like Bishop Konrad Grober von Freiburg - who as far back as 1933 was a leading member of the SS - would have turned against the Nazis. The Pope had no military might, as Stalin rightly observed. He would have been forced to come out of his neutral and peaceful existence, and follow the footsteps of Jesus. Hitler would have been dealt a subtle and deadly blow.
As regarding the question of Euthanasia, which he later rejected, Galen was first and foremost concerned for his diocese. He did not worry much about the deported Jews, at best he may have been concerned for those who had converted to Catholicism, the Christian Jews. As nearly all the Catholic Bishops had hailed the beginning of the Hitler-war in 1939, so also Bishop Galen had preached in Hitler's favor, when he invaded the anti-Christian Soviet Union. Unlike his colleague, the Archbishop Lorenz Jaeger von Paderhorn, he did not speak of the Russians as those who had been "debased to the level of animals," but as the "threatening Red Flood." Even at the termination of hostilities, he regretted that Hitler had lost this cruel war.
Archbishop Grober of Freiburg, expressed himself in a similarly blatant manner, until it became clear after Stalingrad and Kursk that Hitler's war was lost. Up to this point, the Roman Popish Church spoke as an organization that cared only for itself, and otherwise, in the final analysis, tolerated the crimes of the National Socialists (Nazis).
Among the German Bishops, there was only one who was strictly against the Nazis, but did not offer any resistance: Konrad Graf von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin. (It was due to him that Hans Globke enjoyed his influential position in Konrad Adenauer's Government.) Pius XII appeared to have believed Preysing's assessment but gave him no support at all in his anti-Nazi aspirations, which were delivered through the usual church channels of the Germany Episcopacy.
The Pope had no clear boundaries before him. He personally wished for a German victory over Soviet Russia, but could not really make his beliefs known. [NOT TRUE . Papacy did not hide hope of German victory over USSR ... JP] Hitlers would come and go, but according to his appraisal Bolshevism would spread itself over the whole of Europe. At the latest in summer 1942, he received exact information that the systematic extermination of all Jewish men, women and children in Europe had begun. He was, after all, his own foreign minister. News reached him from Poland, like that written by an Italian war-chaplain, cautiously written in Latin, "We have been robbed of all humanity, delivered to the cruelty of people who are lacking in all human feeling. We are always living in horrible terror, always in danger of ending up in a concentration camp." It is said that Pius, as he read that , wept.
Now, at the very latest, an official encyclical should have been issued.
We don't really know what the Pope must have thought at that time. We have reason to believe, however, that he wanted to preserve the Roman Catholic Institution, Universities, schools training colleges , and kindergartens. In his favor we want to accept this , otherwise his behavior could only be explained as cowardly.
Perhaps it was simply a matter of pure convenience, as is shown in an exchange of letters between the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, and Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, a high official of the Vatican Library. In June 1940, shortly before France capitulated, as the cruelties of the Nazis in Poland became known at least to high ranking diplomats, Tisserant wrote to Paris:
"I am afraid that History will reproach the Holy See for having pursued a policy of convenience for themselves, and not much else. In the first place that is sad, but above all if one lived under Pope Pius XI. And each man trusts, that after Rome is declared to be an Open City, nobody will need to suffer anything from the Curia. This is a disgrace."
Perhaps one should admit to doubts as to the working of the Holy Spirit, who apparently did not stand by the side of the Cardinals, as they chose Pacelli to be the Pope. Perhaps one should spend a few moments asking oneself what might have come of the Gospel, if the Jesus Christ to whom they have taken an oath, were of the same opinion as His apparent representatives (Vicars) who have so carelessly carried on through the centuries.
The two Cardinals did not know in their time of the much worse infamy, which was to come. They did not know that the destruction of the Jews had long been planned, for which - as lately in France - verbose apologies are made; and one eagerly awaits a word from the Pope. Does he, or does he not show remorse?
The basic question is, and remains, whether Pope Pius XII , by way of a condemnatory speech, could have played into the hands of the Nazis. There were instances in the Netherlands where protests by the Church only led to an escalation of murderous measures.
To accept this premise, however, means that we would be underestimating the power of the Roman Catholic Church, which she does not have today, but had then. Even though in 1941, so many of the Catholic Bishops had pastoral letters read in favor of the campaign against Stalin's Soviet Union, they could not have refused to publish openly an encyclical issued by the Pope.
Hitler's army, which had a million Catholic members, could not have endured this edict. The Dictator would have had to retreat in order to continue the war, when he was on the brink of defeat in the middle of 1942. And if through this only a quarter of the Jews had been saved, the Roman Catholic Church, which had been stained by many deeds of shame, might have had a golden hour*.
(*The times of the Spanish Armada were especially benevolent, when Pope Pius V encouraged the murder of the English Queen Elisabeth 1, and with it declared all sin null and void.)
In the film produced by "Arte" about the Popes, it is made out as if Pope Pius XII was personally prepared to give his life, or be taken to a concentration camp. Both were highly unlikely. The official church does not value martyrs except of course, the first ones, so being a martyr would not have been significant. Proclaiming a martyr as being holy is quite different from being willing to be a martyr.
Had anyone harmed Pius XII in any way, how could this have been hidden from the German masses? Even Napoleon who had abducted Pope Pius VII from Rome in 1809, did nothing to him, apart from imprisoning him in Savona.
One forgets too easily, that the successor to the supposed Peter is also Bishop of Rome. Almost from right under his nose, the Nazi executioners deported Jewish women and children directly to Auschwitz. What could have been, if the Vicar of Christ on earth, accompanied by six of his Swiss Guards, had personally gone to their point of departure? We would not have expected him at all, like King Christian of Denmark, to have pinned a Jewish star to himself.
Whether the behavior of the Pope was out of anxiety or convenience, it remains a disgrace. Pope Pius XII will find many advocates for his defense, and amongst them those who would like to know that he will be made a saint.
It is true that Pope Pius XII also helped to hide Jews in cloisters, churches and "even!" in the Vatican. It remains an open question, whether the number exceeded the number of Nazis that were sluiced away after the war to South America, by the Austrian-born Bishop Alois Hudal, Director of the German College of Priests [and more ... JP] .
That the National Socialists (Nazis) ever had the opportunity to comb the Eternal City for Jews, lay with the inconsistency in the leadership of the Allies. Hitler's forces took the opportunity to take Rome and have their say for longer than half a year. Pius showed that he was indignant at the arrest of the Jews in Rome, and within the Vatican he gave vent to his annoyance; but also to the fact that more consideration had been given to Cairo ( a center of Islam) than Rome. For the Axis diplomats resident in the Eternal City, it only remained now to restrain the Pontiff from making an open protest, above all to Bishop Hudal, who at all times called the Nuremberg Laws and every other form of discrimination good.
Then there was Ernst von Weiszacker, who was appointed in April 1943 as the ambassador to the Vatican, who was Ribbentrop's Secretary of State in the Foreign Ministry. He also likewise sought to hinder such a protest. In spite of the over a thousand Jews, who were transported to Auschwitz, of whom only 15 people came back, the Ambassador reported to his Center in Berlin:
The Pope, although assailed as we gather from different sides, did not allow himself to be cajoled into any strong protest against the deportation of the Jews from Rome. Although he had to reckon with the fact that this position would be picked up by our opponents, and used for propaganda purposes by Protestant circles in Anglo- Saxon lands against Catholicism, even in this delicate question he did everything not to disturb the relationship with the German Government and the German Institutions which were situated in Rome. Because there was no more necessity to carry out further German actions in Rome concerning the Jewish question, we can reckon that this uncomfortable question for German-Vatican relations was liquidated.
In this context, the word "liquidated" is most disturbing. The son of Richard von Weizacker, commenting on his father's mode of conducting himself, in the "Arte" program:
It was always questionable as to whether the original intentions of Hitler to occupy the Vatican and abduct the Pope, would have been given new life, if it had come to a world-wide open -collision course.
In what form would this world -wide collision have taken place? ( or- of what would this world-wide collision have consisted?) One could not give a real reason for all of Hitler's mad outbursts. How could he more effectively have gone on a collision course, than by occupying the Vatican, and locking up the Pope somewhere? In his worst fits of rage, Hitler had never threatened to bomb the whole of Rome, including St. Peter's.
The position of the German Episcopacy was never ambiguous, but unequivocal. From the pulpit and in pastoral letters, it was impressed upon German soldiers, that they should put their life on the line for the Fuhrer and the Fatherland. The tone and purpose of these appeals changed during the course of the war, but in spite of some criticism, the pastoral letters remained within the limits of the system; even those of the rebellious Archbishop Joseph Frings of Cologne, who was one of the figureheads of the Catholic alleged opposition. The bombing and murder of innocent civilians was condemned, but all who took part in the war were guilty. The fate of unconverted Jews was not mentioned.
As the Vatican learned of the worst of the Hitler-Regime's crimes, the Pope was advised many times to re-call his successor in Berlin, the Papal Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo, who was in favor of the Nazis. The reaction of the Pope to such delicate diplomacy was characteristic. He was afraid of that which he should have hoped for: that the Reichsgoverment would not agree to another Papal Nuncio. For the people of the Church, it would have been at least a sign.
Hitler, who had officially withdrawn his Euthanasia-Bill, and for a while continued secretly with the extermination of those unfit to live, could only have lost in an open conflict with the Vatican.
The moral loss, which the Roman Catholic Church suffered through the secular diplomatic restraint of their Pope, was covered up after the war by the enthusiastic approval of the citizens of Rome for Pope Pius XII. Unlike King Victor Emmanuel III. , and his caretaker head of government Badoglio, he did not leave Rome, but bravely and boldly held out in the Vatican.
The church of Jesus Christ, through their hypocritical use of words was degraded to the level of a school of diplomacy. With the Popes, one never knows if they really see themselves as the Vicars of Christ on earth, or if they see themselves only as the bosses of a philanthropic and powerful, as well as money-hungry organization.
With the new Pope, John Paul II , we must wait and see how he formulates the plea for forgiveness.. In no way would he ever name one of his forebears, and certainly not Eugenio Pacelli. Under Pope Pius XII, the moral fabric fell to pieces. For this reason he made all Catholics a present: The doctrine of the "Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven."
In Box - We have to wait to see how Pope John Paul II formulates the plea for forgiveness.
"Giving an Order for Festive Bell-Ringing"
How leading German Catholics praised Hitler and the War
Those of us who have been appointed as chaplains for the prisoners will naturally not interfere in the province of the examining judges, rather to oblige the offenders to absolute sincerity and recognition of state authority, and in this way to help with the inner readjustment and improvement of the prisoners . We bishops request from you, Mr. Reichspresident, to lift the interdiction on confession , which is cruel and unworthy of a cultured state. Request from the German bishops to Hitler , on 20th August 1935, after Heydrich had forbidden Auricular Confession in the prisons and concentration camps.
The sight-seeing tour to the Aschendorf Moor Camp had ended. The Bishop had given a lecture to the prisoners in the beautifully decorated lecture barracks, where an alter had been erected. In this lecture, he emphasized to the prisoners that the Faith laid up on everyone the duty of obedience and faithfulness towards the Nation and the State At he end of his speech, he concluded with a three-fold "Heil Hitler" for the Fuhrer and the Fatherland. The "Cologne National Paper" Nr. 182 of 4th July 1936, writing about the visit of Bishop Wilhelm Bemings to the concentration camps of his diocese.
The Fuhrer and Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler, has observed the onward march of Bolshevism from afar and directed his thinking and careful attention to turning away this immense danger from the our German people and the Eastern Territories. The German Bishops consider it their duty to support the Supreme Head of the German Reich in this respect , with every available means from the Sanctuary that are available to them. From a general, pastoral, letter of the German bishops, dated 24th December 1936.
This great step in securing international peace, gives the German Episcopacy occasion to have the honor of expressing its congratulations and thanks on behalf of all the diocese in Germany, and to order a festive ringing of the bells on Sunday. So ran a telegram from the German Bishops Conference on the occasion of the entry of German troops into Czechoslovakia on 1st October 1938.
In these hours of decision we want to encourage and exhort our Catholic soldiers, to be obedient to the Fuhrer, willing for sacrifice and submission of their whole personalities in order to do their duty. We call upon believing people to pray earnestly that God's providence for the outbreak of war will lead to richly blessed success and peace for the Fatherland and people. Quote from the German Bishops in the "Martinus Journal" of 17th September 1939.
...... in the name of all the overseers of all the Diocese in Germany, we bring you hearty congratulations on your birthday, together with our earnest prayers, that the German Catholics are sending to heaven on the Altars on 20th April 1940, for people, army, and Fatherland, for the State and for the Fuhrer. Cardinal Adolf Bertram, Archbishop of Breslau, in a letter of congratulations to Hitler on his 51st birthday on April 20th 1940.
Particularly as Christians, we have decided to put our whole energy into ensuring the ultimate victory of our Fatherland. especially as believers, Christians glowing with the love of God, we stand true to our Fuhrer, who is guiding the history of our people with a sure hand. Taken from a pastoral letter written by the Ermlander Bishop Maximilian Kaller, praised by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Head-office of State security. January 25, 1941
This fact brings me comfort, which we specially need today, but also brings to mind the particular honor that we owe to our fallen warriors...... They wanted to go on a new crusade with the battle-cry, "It is God's will," to bring down the Bolsheviks, even as Franco, the Spanish deliverer, with Christian zeal to accomplish his aims, extolled in a speech some years back in Saville. They died for Europe, to turn back the "threatening red flood," and to form a wall of protection for the whole of the western world. Pastoral letter from Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Munster, on 15. March 1942.
Picture captions from page 92-107 -
Picture [of Pius XII in full regalia, carried on litter] caption - Pope Pius XII. : "Testifying to the Truth"
Picture (of WWII era Jews being loaded onto cattle cars) caption - Deported Jewish Women and Children: Dragged away under the eyes of the Pope to Auschwitz.
Picture ( of JPII blessing a man dressed in classic prison garb) caption - John Paul II in June in Poland: A festive "mea culpa"?
Picture [of RC clergy and uniformed Nazis together giving "Heil Hitler"] - Bishops Bornewasser, Sabastian, Governor Burckel, The Minister of the Interior Frick, Goebbels (1935): Concerned about auricular confession.
Picture Caption - The German Attack on the Soviet Union (1941): The Campaign against the East.
Picture ( of three high level clerics) caption - The Bishops Galen, Grober and Preysing: Always hemmed in by the System.
Picture of a high level RC cleric accompanied to a limousine by a Nazi officer and being "Heil Hitlered" by chauffeur) caption - Papal Nuncio Orsenigo, Minister of State Miessner (1939) *: Fascist Leanings
(*After giving his congratulations on the failure of the attempt on Hitler's life as he left the State Chancellery on 8 November 1939.)
Picture (of stylish party attended by RC clerics and Nazis) caption - Reception at the German Embassy in the Vatican with Goebbels and the Vicar General Steinmann (1933): On a world-wide open -collision course.
Picture caption - Nazi Propaganda Poster (around 1942). Church circles not closely connected.
Picture (of group of older men, mostly uniformed RC clergy) - caption - Bishops in Drancy (1941) : Remorse over mistakes of the past
Picture (of classi ) caption - Deportation of the Jews in Drancy (1941): Half-hearted excuses.
Picture (of Pope warmly, closely speaking to groups of German soldiers) caption - German Armed Forces with Pope Pius XII. (1941): Earnest prayers for State and Fuhrer.
**Der Spiegel (The Looking Glass)
**A real disgrace ( literally, "this is a disgrace"
**Mea culpa (my fault - Latin)
**SD (probably - Sicherheitsdienst - Security Services)