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The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany Hardcover – 14 Jul 2005
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The most surprising part of this book was the chapter on “Hitler’s Mufti,” showing how the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem supported the Third Reich while Pope Pius XII was working against it. Rabbi Dalin ties all of this in with the rise of radical Islam and modern-day anti-Semitism.
I would have liked a bibliography with more details of the primary sources used here, rather than just the secondary sources mentioned in the notes, but this is a book for the general reader, not the academic specialist, and I’m sure that people who are new to this controversy as well as those who have already done some reading on it will find Rabbi Dalin’s book to be worthwhile.
This book goes some way to answering those points, defending the reputation of Pius X11. How effective it is in that regard I suppose for many readers will depend upon their own perspective. My problem with this text is that there are really only two chapters in what is quite a short book that directly deal with the issue. The author takes a direct stand on the various criticisms that have been leveled at Pius XII without providing any discussion or room for doubt. The reader is put in the position of either totally accepting the author's views or researching the subject themself. I am just not interested enough in this subject to refer back to all the references provided. The problem with that is when an issue comes up that one disagrees with there is a temptation to dismiss all the arguments. For example Dalin has a section in the book describing the Renaissance Popes. I don't know why that is relevant but he paints a very rosy picture of this group as regards their relations with Jews. But no mention of Pope Paul IV and the Inquisition.
My view is that both Dalin and (to a lesser extent) Cornwell would have been better to have taken a more realistic view of Pius XII. The man was an intelligent diplomat faced with an impossible task of maintaining the Vatican as an independent state within the context of a widely anti-sematic Europe and overwhelming fascist might. As a diplomat he made choices some right and some wrong. With the benefit of hindsight he probably did not do enough to help European jews but his position was strictly limited by his weak position. One could argue that the long-term survival of a force for good (i.e. an independent Catholic church) was more important than risking all with futile gestures.
If nothing else both books are well worth reading to illustrate the difficulty historians have in dispassionately describing such significant historical events.
"While I believe with many commentators that the pope might have done more to help the plight of the Jews, I now feel, 10 years after the publication of my book, that his scope for action was severely limited and I am prepared to state this," he said. "Nevertheless, due to his ineffectual and diplomatic language in respect of the Nazis and the Jews, I still believe that it was incumbent on him to explain his failure to speak out after the war. This he never did."
Others would argue that the author's insistence that Pope Pius XII should have taken a more public stance against Nazism has never made much sense. The Pope lived in Vatican City, a militarily indefensible neighborhood in Fascist Rome. Any time he wanted, Hitler could have sent German troops already in Italy to silence the Pope. In spite of that, the Vatican's open opposition to Nazism compares favorably to that of Switzerland, protected by its mountains and an army that included virtually all adult Swiss males, and Sweden, protected from invasion by icy cold waters and Hitler's need to ensure that nothing happened to his supply of Swedish iron ore.
Instead of making a public statement that would have been sneered at by Hitler and flashed across the front pages of newspapers in the US and UK for a single day and then faded into oblivion, Pope Pius XII did far more good in secret, issuing orders and encouraging others to protect European Jews. Scholars, obsessed themselves with mere words on paper, attach too much value to them. Deeds are better. And having done nothing wrong, the Pope had nothing to explain after the war.
One final note. The assumption that Pope Pius XII could accomplish much by making a single statement before he would be kidnapped and perhaps killed by Nazi soldiers assumes that the Europe of the 1940s was the Europe of the Middle Ages. That's far from true. For centuries, secularists and academia had labored to undermine the Pope's authority, even over Catholics. They can't suddenly turn around and say, "Oh, we've made a mess of things. Why don't you speak up and straighten them out?"
A case in point. Today's popes are often attacked for criticizing something quite similar to Nazi anti-Semitism. Using almost identical arguments, unborn babies are dehumanized and killed. Anyone who criticizes the Pope, or indeed any Catholic, for denouncing abortion has no right to criticize the Pope of World War II, even if he did only one tenth as much as he actually did to save Jews.
The Catholic church, I might add, did for more to save Jews than Europe's much vaunted universities. According to one account I read, half of Rome's Jews found shelter in the Catholic facilities. Pope Pius XII even issued secret orders allowing Catholic nuns to hide Jews deep within nunneries in places that were off limits to anyone who wasn't a member of the order. How many Jews found refugee in the university campuses of Europe? How many secret orders to hide Jews were issued by university presidents? I don't know of a single one. Perhaps the author of Hitler's Pope should devote himself to a new book entitled Hitler's Professors.
--Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II
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