Giving a voice to the ‘Silent Pope’
But, during the war, Pius XII did not publicly condemn the Holocaust. Here, Hochhuth seemed to have a point He could quote a despatch sent from Rome by von Weizsaerker, the Ambassador. who was previously Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. He said in his message that the Pope had not spoken out even when Jews were being carded off under his windows. His words were a favourite quote. up to quite recently, of critics of Pius MI. Why did von Weizsaecker write thus, he who on his own affirmation was opposed to the Holocaust, a friend, as he told the Pope later. of those executed after the acsassination attempt on Hitler?
We don’t have to speculate. His immediate assistant in the Rome embassy, Albrecht von Kessel. has given the full explanation, which corroborates what is contained in the Vatican War Documents. The ambassador was summoned to the Vatican immediately after the first round-up of Roman Jews. He admitted his sense of shame: “Are you surprised that I stay where I am?” He would do his best, but asked for a free hand. His telegram to Berlin was meant to quieten suspicion there. It was a ploy and it worked. Seven thousand Roman Jews owed it their lives. They had time to take hiding in religious communities, the wish of the Pope — he had dispensed the cloistered communities to this end.
Sister Pasqualina, the Pope’s housekeeper, has told that she saw him bum a scorching denunciation of Nazi genocide. He had learned of the Dutch tragedy. There, the bishops had issued a public protest after the first seizure of Jews. Immediately official policy, retaliation for such denunciation, went into action. Jews who had become Catholics were taken and sent to Auschwitz; Edith Stein, Blessed (soon to be saint) Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was among them. Already, Pius XII had learned this harsh reality from Archbishop (later Cardinal) Sapieha of Cracow who was a personal friend. The Pope sent him a thorough condemnation of the Nazi atrocities in Poland. He explained that he dared not publish it; it would make matters worse.
Before leaving Holland there is an interesting fact to note. At the end of the war. 79 per cent of Dutch Jews had perished. In nearby Belgium, with a
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different policy (oancealment. personal assistance and financial aid). 73 per cent of the Jewish population survived.
Jewish gratitude to the Pope personally was overwhelming. The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli. became a Catholic and took Pius Mrs baptismal name, Eugenio — the Pope had helped in raising ransom money to save Jewish lives. The Jewish World Congress voted two million lire to the Vatican in gratitude. The Israeli Symphony Orchestra, on its first European tour, gave a performance in the Vatican in honour of Pius XII: Beethovems Ninth Symphony. Ireland’s most distinguished Jew. Dr Bethel Solomons — a fellow member, with me, of the wartime Jewish Christian Society — told me that as President of the Irish College of Physi cians. he had thanked the Pope for what he did for his people.
In a television diatribe against the Pope it was stated that he would not even receive the Chief Rabbi of Israel. Isaac Hialevi Herzog, who had gone to Istanbul to thank Mgr Roncalli for his help, receiving the reply “I did it on orders from the Pope.” I spent an afternoon with Dr Herzog in 1957. When I mentioned Pius XII he became enthusiastic. giving an account of the very special audience he had with hint When a Catholic weekly went along with the false hood I wrote this to the editor, my letter was not published.
The Chief Rabbi asked me to give his blessing to the Pope. When I did so. I added, “I think the Jews are grateful for what you did for them”. His reply: “I wish I could have done more.”
What of Jewish historians? The first and greatest, Jeno Leval. was an outstanding defender of Pius XII I spoke briefly svith him in Budapest in 1968. He was still adamant in his repudiation of Hochhuth. first expressed at the trial of the surviving Auschwitz personnel in 1964. I also met, for a much longer session, Pinhas Lapide in Jerusalem_ He told me that he heard a Gentian general admit that retaliation was official policy in reply to protests. He estimated at 860.000 the Jewish lives saved by Pius XII’s rescue network. A writer rarely mentioned is David Herstig. who calculated that in 1966 360.000 Romanian Jews owed their lives to Pius X11.
Then why the utter falsification about the person of this Pope? He is a scapegoat — was I should say. for the truth is coming out. The Allied Powers did nothing, repeat nothing. to save Jewish lives. They would not even bomb the railway line to Auschwitz. which would have saved thousands. The reader will get the sordid stray in Martin Gilbert’s book Auschwitz and the Allies. Recently released State Papers reveal that in 1941 the Jewish genocide via,. known, but covered up lest the Germans would know that their codes were being broken — one appalling paper refers to the danger of having to deal with “wailing Jews”. The Allies did nothing to save the Jews until the war was over. Pius XII has been unjustly accused of the same callous indifference, It is an accusation which simply does not stand up. And is time for it to be seen for what it always was a lie.