"Not a Few Can Be Proud of What Pius XII´s Church Did"

Two Non-Catholics Defend War-time Pope and His Efforts for Jews

ROME, JUNE 23, 2001 (Zenit.org).- "The lynching of Pius XII is nasty," says Paolo Mieli, one of Italy's leading journalists and a lover of history.

A one-time correspondent for La Stampa newspaper and a former director of the Corriere della Sera, Mieli is now director of RCS, the largest publishing house in Italy. His latest book, entitled "History and Politics: Resurgence, Fascism and Communism," is a phenomenon in the publishing world.

Mieli is a man with strong opinions about the Holocaust - his own family paid a painful price at the hands of the Nazi regime.

"I come from a family of Jewish origin, and I have relatives who died in concentration camps during the Second World War; therefore, I speak of all this with great difficulty," Mieli said here earlier this month. He spoke at the presentation of the book "Pius XII: Pope of the Jews" ("Pio XII: Il Papa degli ebrei," Piemme, 2001), written by Andrea Tornielli, Vatican expert for Milan's newspaper Il Giornale.

"Andrea Tornielli's book is a counterweight to achieve a just balance on this controversial Pontiff," Mieli affirmed. "In reading the book, one can see that over a long period of time it was precisely the Jews who gave thanks to that Pontiff for what he did during the Second World War."

Since the 1960s, however, Pius XII has been the subject of controversy, following the publication of the play "The Vicar," and, more recently, the book by British journalist John Cornwell entitled "Hitler's Pope."

Yet "that Pope, and the Church that depended so much on him, did very much for the Jews," said Mieli. "It is estimated that slightly less than 1 million, between 700,000 [and] 800,000 Jews were saved by the Church and by that Pontiff. It is a fact - from a Jewish source, because the estimate was done by Pinchas Lapide - that, perhaps, should precede any discussion about Pius XII.

"Six million Jews killed by the Nazis and almost a million Jews [saved] thanks to the structure of the Church and this Pontiff. When one remembers the people who did something to physically save Jews, not a few can be proud of what Pius XII's Church did."

Mieli continued: "There is recrimination against Pius XII for not having cried out in face of the deportations from the ghetto of Rome, but other historians have observed that no one saw anti-Fascists running to the station to try to stop the train of the deported. Yet many postwar studies demonstrate that it was possible to do something, and that the theory, according to which the Resistance could do nothing for the Jews, is unfounded."

"In the campaign against Pius XII," he added, "there is silence about the help the Church offered Jews, assistance that was also logistical. Perhaps it is forgotten that the entire anti-Fascist community benefited from the help, as can be seen in Enzo Forcella's book 'Resistance in the Convent' ['La Resistenza in convento']."

"I want to say it with the greatest clarity: to place responsibility on Pius XII's shoulders is real villainousness," Mieli commented. "Pius XII cannot be the person who is blamed for something that belongs in a complex way to the whole community.

"Obviously, I am speaking of the community that produced the horrendous phenomenon of the extermination of Jews, but also of those who were present and did not react appropriately. For example, Jewish historians wonder why the Jews of Palestine were, so to speak, 'deaf' to what was happening in Europe. Why were there cases of collaborationism in concentration camps, which objectively facilitated the extermination?"

In face of the implicit question as to why Pius XII has become the target of so many attacks, Mieli replied: "One of the reasons why this important Pope was crucified is due to the fact that he took sides against the Communist world in a severe, strong and determined way. In such a way that we had to wait 30 years, until John Paul II, for that style to be taken up properly in a way that was fatal for Communism."

By way of conclusion, the former director of the Corriere della Sera said: "I do not want to propose, and I do not have the requisites to propose, the beatification of this Pontiff.

"However, I think it is lacking in courage to place on his shoulders responsibilities he does not have. He has been treated as though he was with Hitler, with the Nazis, as if he was the only person in the world responsible for the Holocaust. I think, and I reiterate, that this is something monstrous, aberrant - and something that should end."

Supporting Mieli's thesis, former Italian ambassador and political expert Sergio Romano also spoke at the presentation of the book. Romano, no product of Catholic culture, addressed the paradox of how Pius XII at first was "praised and thanked, especially by Jewish communities, for the courage and generosity with which he defended and saved a large number of Jews from Nazi persecutions," and later "quite unexpectedly, this judgment was completely reversed."

For some authors, Romano said, after his death "Pius XII passed from being the benefactor of Jews to an accomplice of Hitler, a cynical and indifferent spectator of the Jewish genocide."

Romano continued: "There is an intimate relation between the judgment on Pius XII and the historical version that has been progressively affirmed in the last 40 years: a version in which Nazism becomes the only evil of the century."

He added: "Soviet propaganda, the opinion of the left in Western societies, and the role that the Jewish genocide had in the national legitimization of the state of Israel during the most controversial phases of its history, collaborated in the spread of this version. Today, following the end of the Cold War, the fall of Communism, and the opening of the Soviet archives, it is possible to write history in a more objective and neutral manner, in which the actors are depicted in the climate in which they had to act and decide."

ZENIT Weekly News Analysis The World Seen from Rome
23. juni 2000

av Webmaster publisert 24.06.2001, sist endret 24.06.2001 - 16:19