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Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli, 1876-1958) Pope (1939-1958)
A Controversial Figure
From the time of Adolf Hitler's accession to power (January 30, 1933), the acts of Cardinal Pacelli have been a matter of controversy. As Vatican Secretary of State, on July 20, 1933, a concordat was signed by Pacelli and Franz von Papen, representing a great diplomatic victory for Hitler.
Ambivalence toward Jews
Cardinal Pacelli was elected Pope on March 2, 1939, and took the name Pius XII. Under him, the Vatican's attitude toward aiding Jews before the war was ambivalent. The Holy See intervened in March 1939, in Catholic Brazil, to obtain 3,000 visas for baptised Jews. In the spring of 1940, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog, asked the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Maglione, to intervene in Spain to keep Jews there from being sent back to Germany. He later wrote again about a similar situation in Lithuania, but the Holy See did not intervene.
Arrival of Information about the Murder of Jews
The Papal Secretariat of State was among the first bodies in the world to receive information about the massacre of the Jews. At the beginning of 1941, Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna told Pius XII about the deportation of Jews that was taking place. The charge' d'affaires in Slovakia, Giuseppe Burzio, as early as October 27, 1941, sent a report to his superiors at the Holy See in Rome, according to which Jews were being systematically destroyed. On October 7, 1942, the chaplain of a hospital train in Poland wrote to the Vatican: 'The elimination of the Jews, through mass assassination, is almost total...they say that two million Jews have been murdered.' But in September 1942, when the United States representative to the Vatican, Myron Taylor, forwarded a note to Cardinal Maglione, the Vatican secretary of State, stating that the Jews were being sent to the East to be killed, the Secretary of State replied that it was not possible to verify the accuracy of such rumours.
Appeals to the Pope to Speak Out
That December, prior to Christmas Eve, many telegrams, including one from Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Palestine, brought urgent appeals to the Pope to save the Jews of Eastern Europe. Pius XII decided to break his reserve, and in his message broadcast by the Vatican radio on December 24, he spoke about the 'hundreds of thousands who through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.' The reference to Jews was clear, but not explicit.
Official but Private Protests
Pius XII apparently wished to avoid the reprisals that might have been provoked by publicly condemning the persecution of the Jews, and he therefore left the responsibility for such decisions to local clergy. He protested officially, if only privately, against the persecution in those countries where he felt that he might have some influence. During the war, criticism of the Pope's position was heard from within the Catholic Church itself. Why the Pope Did Not Speak Out. Catholic writers in particular have put forth numerous reasons why the Pope was reluctant to speak out against the persecution of the Jews: no successful results could be expected, public condemnation would have had little influence on the Nazi authorities, and it could endanger other activities that were still possible. Speaking publicly would harm the Jews, whom the Pope in fact wanted to help; some of the victims could still be saved, but only through discreet private interventions; public intervention against the German government could provoke a schism among German Catholics, as well as measures against the Vatican and the head of the church. Pius XII's hope of acting as a mediator in the war was incompatible with the condemnation of any one of the belligerents; the international character of the Catholic Church, its freedom from politics, and its impartiality toward all belligerents; the fear that the Gestapo might seize the Pope and the Vatican; and the alarm caused by the increasing threat of Communism to Eastern Europe.
Rescue Initiatives Emanating from the Vatican
Although Pius XII himself did not speak out explicitly and some of his nuncios did little to help the Jews, others took part in rescue work. Especially in Hungary, Angelo Rotta protested the treatment of the Jews and engaged in rescue. In Turkey, Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) also worked to foster Jewish rescue in Europe. The Pope issued no public protests during the deportation of the Jews of Rome, but Pius XII apparently did order Catholic institutions to aid Jews. Still, his lack of decisive public action, even at his own doorstep, has made the pontificate of Pius XII the subject of disagreement among scholars.
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