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Why was the Pope Silent?

Written by Alexander Kimel - Holocaust Survivor.

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There is an ongoing discussion about the role of the Pope, during the Holocaust. There is no doubt that the Pope was fully informed about the extermination process, but refused to protest or even to condemn the Nazi atrocities. In Italy, where the Church opened its door to the persecuted Jews, the Pope did little to warn the Jews about the impeding danger. There is no doubt that the Vatican and the Pope knew beforehand about the impending deportation of the Italian Jews. There is evidence that the German Ambassador to Rome Mollhausen alerted the Vatican about the impending deportation, they believed that a strong stand by the Vatican, could forestall the deportations, but the Pope did not act.

It is improbable that an issuance of a strong condemnation or protest by the Vatican and the Church, would have changed the course of the Holocaust, and stopped the atrocities. It is certain that an issuance of a simple pastoral letter, re-stating the simple fact that killing of Jews is a mortal sin, would have a tremendous influence on the Christian population, saved ten of thousand of Jews, and increased the moral authority of the Church. No such letter was issued, and in Poland the peasants kept killing Jews and delivering them to the Gestapo for 2 lbs. of sugar, without being censured by the priests, or the underground Polish authorities. The determination of the policy toward the Jews was left open, it was left to the local Church Hierarchy, or to the individual priest. Some local priest had the courage and wisdom to speak up.

The Pope not only did not speak out, but also did not even make an effort to warn the Jews, this could have been easily done through the network of thousand of priests. Why did the Pope fail to act? Was he an anti-Semites, himself? The answer is no. Although the Pope failed to publicly condemn the German atrocities, does not mean that he did not help them . There is documented evidence that the Pope intervened with the Church dominated puppet Governments of Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary on behalf of the their Jewish citizens, but receiving an evasive answer, backed off. In Italy, thousands of Jews were sheltered and hid in convents and Churches, thousands of priests actively helped the Jews, sometimes risking their lives.

What was the motivation for this lack of leadership? Suzan Zuccotti, put it succinctly (The Italians and the Holocaust).

Outside Italy, a strong papal condemnation of the Holocaust could have an even greater impact. The Jews of Hungary, for example, were still free at the end of 1943. During the spring of 1944, hundreds of thousands were arrested and deported by Hungarian officials who might have been influenced by the Pope open appeal. Suggestions that the Pope was in some way anti-Jewish and therefore insensitive to Jewish sufferings are reprehensible. The Pope may have shared the prejudices of many Christians against Judaism as religion, but there is no evidence that he did not grieve at the violence and horror of the Holocaust. Charges that he acquiesced for personal fear are equally unworthy and lacking in evidence.
A third explanation, that the Pope feared bolshevism that he refused to condemn Nazism, comes closer to the truth. Pope Pius XII was almost pathologically afraid of bolshevism. He loudly condemned Russian aggression against Finland, while ignoring German aggression in Catholic Poland. In Rome itself, he so feared a Communist takeover ton October 19 (1943), three days after the roundup (of the Jews), he actually requested the Germans to put more police on the streets. German police, who would also arrest Jews and, for that matter, anti-Fascist Christians, were the last thing the Romans wanted and needed.
But the Pope's anti-bolshevism does not adequately explain his reaction to the Holocaust. In fact, as he decided what to do that terrible October, Pope Pius XII faced several overwhelming problems. He knew that a strong public definition and condemnation to the Holocaust - not only might have saved lives - might cause the Germans to occupy the Vatican and to invade churches and monasteries throughout Italy. In Rome alone, more than 450 Jews eventually hid in the enclaves of the Vatican, while more than 4,000 others found shelter in churches, monasteries, and convents. Many thousands more hid in religious institutions throughout the country. Serious disintegration of German-Vatican relations could place these lives in jeopardy, without necessarily, in Pope's view saving others.

Second, the Pope feared that a condemnation of the Holocaust might provoke Nazi reprisals against Catholics in German-occupied countries, as well as even more terrifying persecution of the Jews. While it is difficult to imagine any more ferocious persecutions than that already existing, it must be remembered that Catholic churchmen in several countries had been able to secure temporary exemptions from deportation for converted Jews and the children and the Jewish spouses of mixed marriages. ...he did not want to jeopardize these private arrangements, especially when it remained unclear how many lives his condemnation of the Holocaust might save.
Third, Pope Pius XII was concerned about his responsible to preserve and protect an institutions as he was about his moral leadership. He was well aware that Hitler toyed with the idea of establishing a rival papacy in Germany. He knew that the Vatican is completely at the mercy of the German troops occupying Italy. Above all, he had reason to believe that a large majority of German Catholics would reject any papal denunciation of the Holocaust. He feared that a threat to excommunicate Catholics who murdered Jews or to place Nazi Germany under the interdict would result in a large-scale defection of German Catholics, and perhaps it would not have occurred. The point he is that the Pope apparently believed it, and his belief influenced his policy.


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