THE POPE AND THE SHOAH
"Proclamation V. Reprisal"
I now come to the most disputed issue relating to popes and politics, as well as to possible antisemitism: the activities of the Holy See and pre-eminently of Pius XII during the Nazi period. We have already seen in chapter two the extremes to which his "denigrators" and "consecrators" can be driven by their respective ideologies. No one questions that this remains the most tangled and the most controversial issue between Jews and Christians (as well as among Christians and among Jews) since the brutal devastation of the Shoah began to be tentatively acknowledged in the period before and during the second World War. From that time of its occurrence to the present when its full impact has only gradually dawned on the conscience of the world, no issue has so riven the sensibilities of people of every and of no religion. But since the enormous literature this dispute has elicited is not my present focus, I will say briefly what I have sought to clarify elsewhere (The Range of Commitment, 1970; innumerable times in the original series of Continuum; and in at least twenty titles published under the Herder and Herder imprint)(49) that the failure of the pope to fulfill his threefold office as prophet, priest, and servus servorum is arguably the great tragedy of modern Catholicism. Whether in fact it will remain clearly such in the future is a judgment of history. In either case, one simply cannot justify faulty scholarship, or biased and distorted interpretations, much less arbitrary accusations in condemnation of an enigmatic figure who seems by any balanced judgment to have embodied and suffered the tension of mystique and politique, a tension that von Hügel would have viewed as the "frictional" factor intrinsic to the very nature of religion as a this-world/other-world phenomenon.
A shadow hovers over virtually all discussions of Pius, particularly since his treatment in Der Stellvertreter by Rolf Hochhuth. (Possibly not since Uncle Tom's Cabin has a third-rate literary effort had such a widespread and controversial impact.) But that shadow is not his condemnation of the pope--largely on his part a propaganda effort, easily dismissed--but his defining the terms of all subsequent discussion, so that what is asked of Pius is not a deed, an actio, which would achieve the cessation of the Jewish slaughter, but merely a statement, a proclamation, a word. As a consequence, the immense literature which grew up around the figure of the pope persistently employs Hochhuth's (Protestant) language, as though Pius's preached word would have some kind of automatic, intrinsic, even sacramental efficacy. Hence, too, all those dreary tracts focusing on "speaking out," "public condemnation," "never saying a word," "les silences," "das Schweigen," etc.. The entire dramatic tenor of Hochhuth's play, and of the real-life situation, should have focused on the pope's seeking a word made flesh, an accomplishment which would not merely pay futile homage--however loudly, dramatically, vigorously--to some ideal order of justice, but a deed which would fuse the ideal with the real, which would like the sacrament of which he was the high priest, work what he said. The friction lay in that the fulfillment of his prophetic office abraded his office as priest and as servant of the servants of God. (Cf. "The Deputy," Continuum, Summer, 1963; Blackfriars [U.K.], October, 1963) Moreover, such abrasion as all the records attest, was intensified by his own uncertainty as to the consequence of deeds fraught with the possibility of reprisals more violent than those he would be seeking to prevent.
It is difficult to see how further research in any library or archive could aid in confirming such uncertainty. Even if it were documented that--to take the worst possible "hypothetical"-- Pius had forbidden explicitly the hierarchies of every country remotely connected to the mass killings to do anything to prevent them, his intention would remain unknown and unknowable--short of discovering a detailed personal diary or written examen of conscience composed during the war years in which he had weighed the issue of reprisals vis-a-vis proclamation. Precisely this question of intention was raised by the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, of which fortunately John Morley was a member: did Pius indicate either in personal papers or in communications to anyone doubts about the correctness of his "silence"? But even this begs the question. To have had no doubts would render him precisely the monster his critics have painted him as. Moreover, his stated concern over reprisals indicates that he was indeed weighing that basic factor; indicates by definition, dubiety as a state of mind.
And after over five decades it would seem unlikely that any record of such obviously private doubts could exist. Moreover, there are contemporaneous attestations of his sincerity in believing he had spoken plainly and understandably in condemnation of the exterminations. If, on the other hand (perhaps the best possible hypothetical), Pius realized that to avoid reprisals he must communicate by spoken word only, and in utter secrecy and through trustworthy messengers with assuredly reliable ecclesiastics that these latter, under guarantee of total concealment, should take every step possible to aid the victims--what evidence, by the very definition of the situation, could there be available in archives or libraries, or anywhere? It might be argued that the results would constitute the evidence. But the results, after fifty years of scrutiny, show only that much was done by local church officials to frustrate the Nazi apparatus--though certainly not as much as ideally should have been done.(50) And this raises the question of the paradigm shift discussed in chapter two. If the ruling principle of Holocaust history is to attain some undefined and possibly undefinable judgmental ideal, where will interpretations ever find a terminal point?
The Commission's questions posed to Vatican officials do not seem to contemplate the possibility of such a "non-ideal" resolution of what has become a cause of resentment and conflict--largely because of a scapegoating of Pius rather than a critiquing of the role of the whole church. A clear and simple solution with a single guilty party might bring what is optimistically called closure, but possibly at the price of truth. Questions having to do with specific details of specific instances of evil by Catholics acting as Catholics must of course be answered. And it goes without saying that archives should be opened, that there should be "full disclosure," and that transparency should reign. But maybe it ought at least to be considered whether this pursuit of a single man is becoming obsessional, and whether there might be a kind of jubilee remission, or at least a meditative pause in this four-decade prosecutorial process, while other "understanding" rather than "judgmental" avenues are followed? (51)
Certainly on the part of the Catholic writers whom I shall be criticizing there is a kind of cynicism to this incessant exploitation of Pius XII and the Holocaust for purposes that often seem remote from any quest for historical accuracy. A decade ago the Israeli philosopher of science, Yehuda Elkana, in the context of the political exploitation of the Shoah, made a celebrated plea to his fellow citizens that while other nations should abide by the injunction to "remember," Israel should "forget." (52) It is time for Catholics, while fostering genuine research-if they have the skills and freedom from parti pris, as clearly some do not-to cease using the Holocaust as a weapon for assaulting their own religious opponents; in short, to cease using it for their own purposes as some kind of ecclesiastical football. This does more to dishonor the need to "remember" than do all the patently vacuous invocations of "honesty" to devalue that virtue. (53)
In any event, neither understanding nor judgment--save of condemnation--seems contemplated by the critics of Pius. While one should pity the pope in his plight, one need not praise him. But neither can one bury him under the steaming compost-heap of invective--"Hitler's pawn," "ideal pope for Hitler's unspeakable plan"--that John Cornwell piles up around Pius's memory, that Carroll naively adds his husks of spoilage to, and that Wills burrows into with ill-concealed relish. Of Pius's statement that he had "condemned on various occasions in the past the persecution that a fanatical anti-Semitism inflicted on the Hebrew people," Wills again plays fast and louche (the word is "squinting") with historical fact: "That is a deliberate falsehood. He never publicly mentioned the Holocaust." Of course, that word was not in currency during Pius's time--but let it pass.
In proof of "deliberate falsehood" Wills refers to "the Pope's Christmas message of December 4, 1942 [meaning December 24], the one speech that is cited to prove that he did speak out against the Holocaust." (A strange circumlocution here: "the one speech that is cited"--as though the straw-man of indeterminate "citers" exhausted the matter, and the words of the pontiff himself were not worthy of examination by historian Wills.) Never mentioned are these people who have cited only one speech; the reason being that Cornwell doesn't provide Wills with the names. Though there is some indication that Cornwell on whom Wills here is totally dependent did glance at parts of the entire message with his now celebrated assiduity and freedom from bias: "no discrimination, no insight," "lengthy and dry sermonizing," "denial and trivialization," etc., Wills himself appears to be aware of the two sentences only. Ignored by both writers, as well as most other commentators (John Morley excepted) is the context of this "one speech": the passages preceding the sentences which are "cited to prove that he did speak out against the Holocaust," and the passages that follow immediately; all of which of course must be read as a unified statement. The first passage relates to the complicity of Christians in the moral disintegration before and during the war; the second to the plight of the Jews (here italicized); and the third to the destruction of civilian centers--a recurrent theme in all the major addresses of this pope, as demonstrated in the discussion of Phayer's The Catholic Church and the Holocaust in chapter two.
1- A great part of mankind, and let Us not shrink from saying it, not a few who call themselves Christians, have to some extent their share in the collective responsibility for the growth of error and for the harm and the lack of moral fibre in the society of today.... That which in peacetime lay coiled up, broke loose at the outbreak of war in a sad succession of acts at variance with the human and Christian sense.... 2- Mankind owes that vow [to bring back society to its center of gravity in God's law] to those numberless exiles whom the hurricane of war has torn away from their native soil and dispersed in a foreign land.... Mankind owes that vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or gradual extinction. 3- Mankind owes that vow to the many thousands of noncombatants, women, children, sick and aged, from whom aerial warfare--whose horrors We have from the beginning frequently denounced--has, without discrimination or through inadequate precautions, taken life, goods, health, home, charitable refuge, or house of prayer.
The last sentenct is particularly interesting since one can detect a note of irony in the phrase, "from the beginning frequently denounced," as though the pope were addressing his critics and saying in effect that he had condemned violations of the traditional just-war doctrine of non-combatant immunity from the very beginning of the conflict, and he was ignored by both sides; now when the hitherto totally inconceivable, unprecedented, and only tardily recognized, mass murders-since the deportations to the east were carefully orchestrated to appear as made up of forced emigrants or forced laborers-have become known as such, how shall my words be any more effectual. One does not ordinarily expect irony in formal papal addresses, but given the emerging criticism, especially among the Allied representatives in Rome-who however sincere were less responsive to papal declarations regarding what was called "city busting"-the pope may have been responding to their respective nations' hypocrisy
In any case, it is obscene to call the address a "paltry statement" as Cornwell does--on a page Wills must have missed when rifling through Cornwell's swollen satchel for facts, opinions, and quotations. Whether the statement represents a "deliberate falsehood," is directly contradicted by the testimony of the British and American representatives at the Vatican both of whom affirmed Pius's sincerity in believing he had spoken clearly enough, and in a manner "plain to everyone." As to Wills' and other carpers' much quoted response as to "why he did not name the Nazis....[because] he would have had to name the Communists too," what is truncated or intentionally omitted here is Pius's belief that, in the words of the American representative to the Vatican: "this ["naming the Communists too"] might not be wholly pleasing to the Allies." Several critics of the statement also detect a clue to the alleged insignificance of this passage in Pius's rhetorical scheme--and therefore also in his mind--because it occurs near the end of a lengthy address. One doesn't know what has happened to the notion of peroratio, the summation and climactic finale to a speech; but then who these days grows up with--as did Pius--"grave Quintilian's copious work," the Institutio Oratoria? (The quotation is from a different Pope, Alexander.)
Wills justifies his "deliberate falsehood" and "false claim" accusations in the name of that virtue he has trumpeted as his own paramount attribute: "But the issue of honesty arises when arguments are made defending Pius with false readings of history." This is a statement with which one must agree, certainly if they are "readings" such as Wills assembled with regard to Rahner, Benoit, Glock and Stark, "the hidden encyclical," and Nostra Aetate. Wills then recites, in an exercise of his own patent dishonesty, that "it is out of these two sentences [italicized above] that he [Pius] would later construct a claim to have attacked anti-Semitism, specifically, on various occasions." But Pius claimed no such thing, and to assert otherwise is indeed a "deliberate falsehood." What he claimed was by Wills' own wording: "We condemned on various occasions in the past the persecution that a fanatical anti-Semitism inflicted...." This is not a caviling distinction and certainly not one that should be lost on Wills who, when it suits his purposes, scrutinizes every jot and tittle and parses every phrase and clause in papal utterances to ferret out "dishonesties." Again, Wills' wording and interpretation suggest his seduction by Abecedarianism and his addiction to papaphobia.
As to the all-important broader issue of the Holocaust, as early as his Christmas address of 1940, Pius declared: "It is a comfort to Us that through the moral and spiritual assistance of Our representatives and through Our financial resources, we have been able to give support to a great number of refugees, homeless, and emigrants, including those of the Jewish race (di stirpe Semitica)" In the paragraph preceding this quotation, Pius had also declared: "The laws and morality of international warfare have been so callously ignored that future generations will look back on the present war as one of the darkest periods in history. Our thoughts anticipate with anxiety the moment when the complete chronicle of those who have been killed, maimed, injured, captured, those who have lost their homes and their relatives, will be known in all its details. What We know already, however, is enough to rend Our heart." Now this is certainly not the statement of someone who, according to current and past critics, was intent on clouding the historical record out of fear of future obloquy. Nor could it have referred to any other warring nation than Germany which had invaded in the months before the address Poland, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg, France, Denmark, and Norway.
As I have emphasized, the three numbered sections above constitute an interlocking whole. It should also be emphasized that this message was delivered at a time when the first rumors of what is now called the Holocaust were just beginning to be independently confirmed. It is also when the aerial attacks violating the "morality of international warfare"--which the pope had first condemned two weeks after the outbreak of hostilities, and several times thereafter--were launched by the Axis powers against such cities as Warsaw in 1939, Rotterdam, Coventry, and London in l940-4l. Again, it seems obvious, without "mentioning names" whom the pope is accusing. In the context of living through "one of the darkest periods in history," Pius spoke of embracing not just Christians but Jews as well: "...those who are children of the Church of Christ, and those who, because of their faith in the Divine Saviour, or at least in Our Father Who is in Heaven--all who are very near to us."
In June, 1941, speaking of "sin as being exalted, excused, and the master of human life," he gave this illustration: "...individuals and families are deported, transported, separated, torn from their homes, wandering in misery without support." Six months after the Christmas address of 1942, in an Allocution to the College of Cardinals which was published in l'Osservatore Romano (June 3, 1943) and in La Civiltà Cattolica, Pius mentioned specifically his concern for "those who have turned an anxious and imploring eye to Us, those who are tormented because of their nationality or race by major miseries and by more acute and grievous suffering, and who are sometimes even fated, without guilt on their part, to extermination." If these are not condemnations of "the persecution" inspired by antisemitism, then we need to revise our dictionaries. But we have to revise out thinking as well: why do students of the era persist in following almost blindly in the footsteps of Hochhuth, and displaying this obsession with "silence" and with the need for public statements, declarations, even excommunications--the latter demanded by a number of captious critics--rather than with deeds and actions? (Of the axiom, facta non verba, more shortly.)
Nevertheless, Wills persists: "Pius never explained his silence on the Holocaust." Yet he did proffer publicly and privately the reason for his circumspection: "Every word directed by Us to the competent authorities and every public reference have to be seriously pondered and measured by Us in the interest of those who suffer, in order not to make--even unintentionally-- their situation more grave and insupportable." Two months before the Allocution, the Vatican Secretariat of State, after noting that "in order to avert (evitare) the massive deportation of Jews" it had involved its representatives in Italy, Slovakia, and Croatia. However, it added, "an open sign of this would not seem advisable lest Germany, knowing of this declaration of the Holy See, should intensify its anti-Jewish measures." But then from the wings six decades later comes the voice of sensationalizing pasticheurs, suddenly front and center in this carnival of recrimination--the voice of tardy "discoverers-of-the-truth-about-Catholicism"--all masters (and mistresses) of high dudgeon and low blows, bravely asserting urbi et orbi their own untested but, of course, heroically outspoken condemnation of such "silence."
Wills and his cicerone, Cornwell, believe the 1942 Christmas address to have been evasive and trivializing. Wills condemns it as "an address that refused to name Jews or Nazis or Germans specifically." Less than six months earlier in a broadcast to the British people, Churchill had said, "Since the Mongol invasion...there has never been methodical merciless butchering on such a scale," but never named the Jews, so that it was not clear whether he was referring to the war in general, to the conflict in the Pacific theater with "Oriental" peoples, or even to the bombing raids on England. Pius was clearly much more specific, and much more clearly understood. One might note also that Pius in messages--commiserating at the invasion of their countries--to the Queen of the Netherlands, to the King of the Belgians, and to the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg never named "Nazis or Germans specifically." The exercise of a modest historical sensibility, much less any semblance of empathy whether retroactive or not, would suggest that in those terrible times during the early stages of the most destructive war in history--six decades removed from life in the precincts of somnolent libraries at claustral universities with their snug professorial digs--the watchword would have simply been: ca va sans dire. As it would also, no doubt, have been in the face of complaints that the Declaration of Independence "refused to name" George III, or that the Emancipation Proclamation "refused to name" Jefferson Davis or the Confederacy. (54)
To illustrate the "triviality" of the Christmas address, Cornwell cites Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son in law, who described the dictator as "scoffing" at the address: "platitudes by a parish priest in a backwater native village" was the gist of the "contemptuous dismissal of it." Perhaps Mussolini was still smarting from the valediction of Pius's Christmas address of the preceding year which was delivered: "From this Rome, center, rock, and teacher of Christianity, from this city called Eternal by reason of its relations with the living Christ rather than by reason of its associations with the passing glory of the Caesars."
But in fact the 1942 message was not as cryptic and incomprehensible as latter-day critics would suggest. Officials in the Reich Main Security Bureau (RSHA) of the assassinated Reinhard Heydrich-architect of the Wansee extermination program of January, 1942, and heir presumptive to Himmler-clearly understood to whom this address was directed and to what it referred: "...the pope has repudiated the Nazi New Order..., clerical falsification of the Nazi world view.... The Pope does not refer to the National Socialists by name..., but [pace Cornwell and Wills] he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews..., he makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." Owen Chadwick in Britain and the Vatican attributes these responses to the German Foreign Office.
Moreover, Bishop von Preysing of Berlin in March of l943, three months later, also clearly understood what and to whom the Pope's address referred. In one of the letters in Actes et Documents..., he wrote to Pius, a long-time personal friend, about the deportation of "thousands and thousands of Jews whose probable fate is that which Your Holiness has indicated in the Christmas message.... Would it not be possible that Your Holiness attempt once again to intervene in support of these unfortunate innocents?" Pius's "full response" is rarely reproduced since it would not reinforce the post-Hochhuth image in Der Stellvertreter embraced more by Catholic than by Jewish critics--and in fact, the acknowledged motivation of Cornwell's Hitler's Pope. After noting that he had referred to the fate of the Jews in that message, Pius observed that his statement "was brief, but it has been well understood." He went on to say that his love and concern were extended to all who were in anguish, but that he could do nothing effective for them except to pray. However, that "full response" to which I referred above as being rarely cited, is Pius's declaration to von Preysing: "But We are decided, as circumstances advise or permit, to speak out once again in their favor"--about which Phayer observes dryly: "Whatever the circumstances the pope had in mind evidently never came to pass," whereas a more pertinent observation would have to do with the proven fatuity of mere "speaking out," when action was called for. Nevertheless, one assumes the "circumstances" were those surrounding his allocution to the College of Cardinals six months after the Christmas address.
But I want to draw a parallel regarding "outspokenness" with the leader of another church, the world-wide communion of Anglicans. Almost exactly between the time of Pius's Christmas message and his address to the cardinals, the Archbishop of Canterbury-a socially committed prelate in the mould of Cardinal Manning--also formally broke his "silence." Speaking to the upper house of parliament on March 23, 1943, William Temple asserted "that in view of the massacres and starvation of Jews and others in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, [we] should take measures on the largest and most generous scale for providing help and temporary asylum to persons in danger of massacre." (Would that Pius, obsessed with diplomatic niceties, has emulated his forthright British counterpart.) As to the latter's message, one will have to imagine how accepting, how universally welcome would have been the response from Anglicans everywhere-from Sydney to Toronto, from Singapore to Nairobi-at hearkening to this brave clarion; and certainly no where more enthusiastically (at the least, two cheers for Anglicanism) than in the United States where Episcopalians had prided themselves since colonial times on being the quasi-official church of the republic-and well known for their openness to Jewish immigration.
Unfortunately this well-intentioned and sensible statement had to be retracted when were pointed out the constraints of immigration law and the even more humiliating possibility, as the Foreign Office so diplomatically put it, "that the Germans or their satellites may change over from the policy of extermination to one of extrusion, and aim as they did before the war at embarrassing other countries by flooding them with alien immigrants." How very understandable in the country about which T. S. Eliot would opine--without remonstration--that "reasons of race and religion combine to make a large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable." ("Free-thinking" has to do with religion; the "reasons of race" were never supplied.) (55) For the Foreign Office-as for the laureate-extermination was clearly preferable to embarrassment. All of this led to the archbishop lamely admitting that he hadn't envisaged a "flow of vast numbers of refugees"; his view being that "it would be at best a trickle." This, from a prelate of acknowledged virtue, and speaking not in Vatican City--that tiny island of fragile security in an ocean of Nazi troops who in a few months would take over Rome itself--but in the very House of Lords of the "mother of parliaments" in the heart of imperial Britain.
But the British Foreign Office, not being able to ignore the Primate's plea and the American State Department, responding to a mass rally of Jews in New York around the same time, both decided-with the furtive chicanery a Zuccotti or a Phayer could attribute only to "Rome"-on an "exploratory" conference in Bermuda (chosen because it was off-limits to the press), to which no Jewish organizations were invited and which, at the State Department's insistence could not discuss relaxing immigration laws, and at the Foreign Office's insistence could not discuss changing immigration policy in Palestine. "And so it came to happen" that the surrogate representatives to what has gone down in history as "the Bermuda [not Lagoda] Conference", spent their days in the sun talking about possible asylum for alien (and embarrassing) Jewish immigrants in places like Libya and Honduras. (56)
The ironies are too farcical to labor. But if this charade had played out under the aegis of the Vatican, we would still be hearing about it, with insistent demands for detailed explanations filling the daily papers and book reviews more than half a century later. As to Archbishop Temple, a noble-minded prelate (as some might even dare to say about Pius), he died two years later, and thus was spared the recrimination that longevity brings in its wake. And his defenders could always say--citing the dictum of Acton proferred in chapter two-that, anyway, there is really no parallel here at all, since the Anglican communion is both much smaller and more episcopally democratic than the Catholic church.
But even given that latter factor, national bishops conferences did have considerable freedom of action under Pius XII, as he himself emphasized during the war. So if there is a fault it may have been less with the pope than with the German bishops, and more particularly with Cardinal Adolf Bertram president of the Conference who had a history of antisemitism as well as of disagreements with the outspoken von Preysing. It is certainly arguable that agitation by the bishops, acting individually as local church leaders among their own diocesans, would have been more effective than public declarations by the Vatican--or rather by the pope, since Vatican radio made many such declarations. Much is made of the oft-alleged monolithic and pyramidal structure of the Church, and of the prepotent influence of the figure at the peak; but it was a figure in 1942 with moral authority only, unlike the even more egregiously waffling Roosevelt or Churchill, both of whom ignored pleas by Jewish representatives in England, America, and Palestine for relaxing immigration laws and for the bombing of the death camps. Moreover, concerning the myth of the monolith, several non-Italian prelates had criticized Pius XI for his failure to oppose Mussolini's Ethiopian adventure, including Hinsley of England whom Pius later named a cardinal; there is also the well-publicized personal attack--albeit in the early 30's--on Hitler himself by the American Cardinal Mundelein which was never retracted; and finally the joint statement-the first on a major socio-religious issue--by American Protestant leaders and Catholic bishops condemning the ravages of Kristallnacht
When Cardinal Bertram acted as head of the Conference in opposition to the Nazi program for the dissolution of marriages between Jews and non-Jews, the program was aborted. When in the summer of 1943, the bishops agreed to consider a proposal sponsored by von Preysing that would have squelched "rumors regarding the mass deaths of deported non-Aryans," it was Cardinal Bertram who successfully led the opposition. (Cf. Michael Phayer, "Nazism and Some German Bishops," Continuum, Autumn, 1990.) Pius's notion of subsidiarity was carefully communicated to von Preysing: "We leave it to senior clergy to determine if and to what degree the danger of reprisals and oppression... may make restraint advisable to avoid greater evils, notwithstanding the reasons for intervention." Pius's reliance on national episcopates was effective throughout the English-speaking world (both the British and the American bishops condemned racism), as well as--given war-time conditions--in his own country, Italy, Southern France, Belgium, and Holland;(57) less well-served were Catholics in Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that such reliance would have been more understandable had the pope himself secretly but vigorously insisted on action by his subordinates--as indeed he may have.
But can anyone say there was "deliberate falsehood" on the part of Pius in any of this tragic history? Certainly not if the unbiased reader--as the rubric "honesty" would dictate--take into account not only the texts cited above but also the repeated references in a multitude of addresses and allocutions to "the pernicious errors widespread today" that ignore the "indissoluble unity of the human race," "the common origin of all peoples," and that "elevate the state to the supreme criterion of the moral and juridical order," that foster "acts irreconcilable with the law of nature and the elementary sentiments of humanity," that frustrate "the just demands of nations and populations and racial minorities," or that "hinder or restrict their economic resources, for the limitation or abolition of their natural fertility." It is certainly not inconceivable that these and scores of public statements on the violations of the law of nature, on the indissoluble unity of the human race, and on the atrocities of the wartime period were believed by Pius and were, in fact, condemnations of the persecution of all who died in the Holocaust. The question is not whether such condemnations were emphatic and clear enough--they obviously were. The question is whether more muted and ambiguous public statements combined with straightforward but clandestine directives through nunciatures would have had any real alleviating effect, or would also have simply exacerbated the slaughter of the Jews. (58)
Moreover, through all the messages delivered after the outbreak of hostilities was the refrain condemning weapons of mass destruction (a clarion taken up by Vatican II and by Paul VI at his address to the United Nations) along with the repeated denunciation of wanton violators of the principle of noncombatant immunity. This raises an issue, to be considered shortly, bearing on the Holocaust as well as on the differing burden of guilt borne by both of the warring parties. As I have already noted, many of these condemnations of the destruction of urban centers were made before the aerial attacks on such cities as Warsaw, Rotterdam, and London by the Luftwaffe; but even more significantly in this present context, they were also before the RAF "thousand plane" bombardments of Cologne, Essen, and Bremen. The most lethal of these early attacks was in the summer of 1943 when 50,000 civilians died in Hamburg. The US Strategic Bombing Survey, published a month after the grand dénouement at Hiroshima, reported that a fifth of all dwellings in Germany had been destroyed "rendering homeless seven and a half million German civilians." Among those engaged in the survey were such unquestionably upright officers, and later widely admired figures, as George W. Ball, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Paul Nitze.
One has to ask this question as a matter of historical honesty--it is indeed the single ineluctable issue for both admirers and denigrators of Pius. Why did not that exemplary model of probity--again, one must ask in all sincerity--that general who publicly and unembarrassedly invoked Christian values and whose war memoir was called a "crusade," why did he not heed the plain and clear statements of the "Vicar of Christ" denouncing what would subsequently be called in more calloused times, "city busting," and later, "carpet bombing"--and more importantly, what may be the lessons for later generations of that heedlessness? If the Pope's well-publicized statements were so utterly ignored by military leaders who honestly believed they were engaged in necessary retaliatory measures, who were motivated not by ideological ethnic hatred of the "enemy," and who were convinced their tactics were a moral imperative; if such statements were so utterly ignored by such leaders, what would have been the response to similar statements, raised in condemnation of their Nazi counterparts who were inspired and led by a pathologically depraved racist, a ruthless megalomaniac, supported by literally millions of entranced followers including Roman Catholics who had been indoctrinated over the years into mass acceptance of their own systematic dehumanization? At the very, very least those statements would have been ignored.
But, if not at the most or at the very most, it is certainly not impossible, it may even be probable, that they would have been more than just ignored; that they would have been met by demented rage as an affront to the very person of "the Führer," and followed immediately by intensified acts of persecution and extermination. There is here a history of the acceleration both of motivation and of subsequent violence. Kristallnacht was virtually unprovoked, so much so that its fabricated motive still remains highly tenuous if not dubious. The assassination of Heydrich as an indirect attack on Hitler himself was certainly provocative, and it brought about not merely punishment or retribution, but the total annihilation of anything whatsoever connected to the little town of Lidice in a literally diabolic effort to erase its very existence. What would have been the next stage of violence if the provocation were a direct insult to his office, to his rule, and to his self image? It has been suggested that there was little imaginable that could be much worse than what Hitler had already planned and achieved--as though to a madman evil were a finite entity. And he could certainly have accelerated the extermination process, particularly in countries like France and Italy where bureaucratic procedures were encumbering it.
An equally not inconceivable scenario, indeed one implicit in Hitler's Ostpolitik and explicit in the Wannsee Protocol, would be to strike at that nation of Slavs where almost all the death camps were already located and functioning (across the border, lest refined Aryan sensibilities be offended); to strike at that nation Pius--in his first encyclical six week after the war began--referred to as witnessing "the blood of so many cruelly slaughtered, even though civilians, [which] cries to heaven..., our beloved Poland." Five million Poles died during the war; it is impossible to say how many more it would have been if their methodic extermination could have been assured through the utilization of the most sophisticated German technology. A nightmare fantasy? More likely to a rabid fanatic, a dream fulfilled: at once a blow to that haughty aristocrat in the Vatican, that "diplomate de l'ancien régime," as well as the elimination of a negligible, incommodious, and--at least temporarily--brazenly disruptive "subhuman" people. And finally the fulfillment of the Reich's historic destiny, Lebensraum.
By the beginning of 1943, Hitler was enraged that only a million Poles had been driven from their homes and replaced by Aryan settlers. It was the "gradualism" of the elimination of the Jews that led to the Wannsee Conference in January of 1942. What pretext or demented motive would it have taken for Hitler, a year later, to hit upon a "final solution" to his Polish problem? Particularly given his growing instability as the war progressed, it is not preposterous to assume that the kind of public papal condemnation insistently demanded by Hochhuth and his successors would have triggered some such reaction. The utter irrationality of Hitler's declaration of war against the United States had already indicated the emergence of a clearly discernible streak of increasing fanaticism and lunacy.
This was precisely the issue in the Historikerstreit, with the "functionalists"--the very language tends to distance and reify the horror--arguing that the mass murder of Jews was not the result of a systematic plan developed by Hitler, but rather an ad hoc improvisation resulting from disorganization in the regime, from unanticipated military and political setbacks, etc..(59) One certainly need not embrace the thesis of William D. Rubinstein's The Myth of Rescue (1997) that virtually nothing by outside parties would have made a difference regarding the Holocaust, "difference" here meaning anything more "than the most minor and insignificant numbers." But his emphasis on the absolute centrality of Hitler in the decision-making process is far from a wild assumption. That Rubinstein implicitly exonerates Allied indifference to the plight of the victims in the camps is but another illustration of the kind of selective innocence and guilt that surrounds the Holocaust, since he also argues that, "In all likelihood--a likelihood probably amounting to near certainty--Hitler would have paid no heed whatever to any pronouncement on the Jews made by the Vatican."
One indication of Hitler's state of derangement as the war progressed was his absolute refusal, against the advice of all his advisors, to abandon any conquered territory regardless of its political or military insignificance, and regardless of the number of casualties suffered--all that, to satisfy what was clearly an egomaniac whim. That refusal continued until the surrender of Stalingrad in February; 1943. Given this deranged condition compounded by his habitual arrogance and vanity, "any pronouncement on the Jews made by the Vatican" would certainly have resulted in some act of vengeance, if not aimed directly at the person of the pope,(60) then quite likely at more innocent victims--who were conveniently located in the very lands needed for more German living space. Philippe Burrin in Hitler and the Jews (1989) suggested that it was in late summer of 1941--when Russian armies in the area of Stalingrad encircled and then captured 250,000 German troops and when the impact of American aid was beginning to be felt--that Hitler being personally insulted definitively made the long-contemplated extermination decision which would be implemented by the Wannsee Protocol. (Christopher Browning suggests on much more complicated and more plausible grounds, a decision date of shortly before July 31.)
From Burrin's point of view, the specific decision at that particular time was conceived as expiation for German deaths and as an act of revenge against those aiding the Allied powers. Certainly it is possible that a similar act of expiatory revenge would follow on a public papal affront, "a flaming protest," to the German chancellor.
When asked during the war why he wasn't speaking out more forthrightly, Pius replied that indeed he had, and that he had been ignored. The parallel is with Hochhuth's other play, Die Soldaten, now either intentionally or out of ignorance overlooked by Catholics-come-of-age. The subtitle to the play is, loosely translated, "Death Notice on the Geneva Conventions." The central plot relates to opposition to the aerial destruction of civilian centers by Bishop George Bell of Chichester--also an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament in the post-war period. In The Soldiers he pleads in vain with Churchill to discontinue a tactic known as "saturation bombing" that would further erode the principle of noncombatant immunity and--more specifically in this drama--result in the incineration of Dresden. That city, well known to the Allies as a refuge for the aged and infirm, for children and women, and of absolutely no strategic importance, was engulfed in an enormous fire storm only three months before the end of the war. (For the carping critics of the pope's "silence," the message here is: De te fabula.)
It should go without saying that of course there is no equation whatsoever of even the aggregate of these bombings with the monstrosity of the extermination camps. The latter has nothing to do with comparative numerical totals, as Judge Benjamin Halevi patiently but insistently pointed out when deflating at the Eichmann trial the latter's attempt to treat the two as morally equivalent. (But Allied bombing had posed a problem among those planning for the Nuremberg Trials, since it was seen as possibly giving an opening to countercharges--as a consequence, the issue was suppressed.) But there is a "proportionality" argument--and certainly one not lost on as politically and ethically sensitive a figure as Pius XII-- relating to a publicly proclaimed condemnation. If his invocation of the traditional doctrine of noncombatant immunity from the very beginning and throughout the war was utterly ignored, even by the party of justice, it is surely uncertain that there would have been any different response to his condemnation of the initially almost inconceivable and historically unprecedented evil of the death camps. Concerning precisely this latter point, the historian Gerhard Weinberg in Germany, Hitler, and World War II (l995) suggests one, possibly anodyne, reason why the Allied powers did so little to aid the Jews: "The governments of Britain and the United States expressed repeated concern in public but would take few or no practical steps to help. This was due in part to a continuing inability to believe that what they knew was happening was indeed taking place." This argument, as noted earlier, Susan Zuccotti also employed to exculpate innumerable European leaders--except the pope.
In the final analysis, what does all this say of Pius XII? At the least it says that he like his predecessors and his successors was a man in history and with a history. Does it exonerate him? Certainly not, as I said at the beginning of this discussion, if one think of his office as threefold: prophet, priest, and servus servorum. As prophet, one may believe he should have vigorously and publicly proclaimed the truth, regardless of the consequences of such proclamation. One might even invoke Newman: "A silent saint is the object of faith rather than of affection. If he speaks, then we have the original before us." But as priest and servant Pius would have had other missions to fulfill. Though precisely as priest and servant, one of those missions was not proclamation but certainly action, no matter how silently carried out--indeed, to avoid retribution, intentionally carried out silently. Only those gifted in searching the reins and the heart can judge definitively whether he believed he had acted truly as Christ's vicar. But even the ungifted can decry the strident and facile affirmations that would make this Pope guilty of "deliberate falsehood." So, at the most, one can affirm with Kenneth Woodward--whom Wills cites when it suits his purpose--that "the Pope became the first figure of international stature to condemn what was turning into the holocaust."
But having acknowledged that fact, is there something else that must be affirmed? Certainly in the light of the perils attached to any strident condemnations or excommunications, one can even insist that precisely what Pius shouldn't have done was as prophet to "speak out" more clearly and vigorously. However, it certainly may be urged that that would hardly exhaust the demands of his office as priest and servus servorum, the foremost of which would have been--once the enormity of the Nazi extermination program became clear to him (a date that can now only with difficulty be regarded as historically uncertain)--to secretly but effectively employ the worldwide network of ecclesiastical officials from episcopal conferences and nunciatures down to parishes, religious orders, and their auxiliaries in an immense effort to frustrate in every possible way the criminals that brought to pass what history knows as the Holocaust. What he should have done is what he apparently was in fact somewhat half-heartedly doing. But even that observation needs to be nuanced since there is no way to know what the response to such a secret effort would have been on the part of his own subordinates.
The same critics who are convinced that a wholesale and wholehearted condemnation of the exterminations would have at the least partially frustrated them, because the power of the pope is presumably absolute and unquestioned, are those who doubt the possibility that insistence on secrecy by Pius--regarding his direct command to frustrate the Nazis in every possible way--would have been so totally obeyed as to remain utterly unknown over the last six decades. This issue is clearly hypothetical and I introduce it again mainly to point up the selectivity of judgment at play in the controversy. Anyone who would say, "I have no need for this hypothesis," must explain, why if the first assumption of obedience to the demands of the pontiff regarding a public condemnation of the Holocaust is valid--why is it not equally valid to assume an even greater degree of obedience regarding his command to maintain secrecy, particularly since the latter would relate only to a small select group of trusted subordinates?
As is not unexpected, this treatment of Pius XII and the Holocaust ends in a question. But this is not the "Q and A" kind of "question" I referred to earlier in which one side insists on answers to highly imaginative and often purely speculative questions posed out of a desperate though admittedly understandable need for anything that might hold even the slightest possibility of that elusive thing called "closure." Rather, this is the kind of question that leaves one asking for surcease--for the hiatus I also mentioned earlier--in the hope of re-examining the issues with a fresher eye after the ill-concealed though well-understood acrimony of the post Hochhuth era has further subsided. We owe it to Pius's successors that the suspicions and recriminations of that past are gradually being replaced by mutually assuring gestures, and in the case of John Paul II, by mutually assuring deeds.
Of course there will always be some professional historians, of varying degrees of accuracy and of motivation--as this and the preceding chapter well illustrate--who should continue their investigations, and there will undoubtedly be more and more revelations of antisemitic acts in the past, just as there will be more and more revelations of vicious acts of cruelty toward chattel slaves on this continent and in Africa. These will remain disturbing and distressing to all people of conscience who in the first instance have been struggling against antisemitism all of their adult lives, and in the second instance who have supported the cause of reparations from the very beginning. So long as this research is not exploited for personal ends whether by the historians or their auditors, and so long as the intent is not to scapegoat the sincerely remorseful present-day heirs--whether biologically or morally--of the original perpetrators of those evil acts, such scholarly efforts can only be applauded
Concerning the pursuit of "personal ends," I proffer another parallel; again, I trust, not in violation of Acton's admonishments to Mary Gladstone that I alluded to earlier. The parallel is with Eugenio Pacelli and another major twentieth-century leader who was also acclaimed during his lifetime, though admittedly within his own community he was also a controversial but beloved figure. However, after his death, and particularly in the final two decades of the last century, he became (and continues to be) the object of attack and even vilification. All this is common enough for any powerful figure, though the parallel becomes more telling since this particular leader has also been denounced for indifference to the most frightful phenomenon of the modern era, the Holocaust-and I do not have reference to either Roosevelt or Churchill: both likely candidates, but posthumously almost apotheosized. Among charges brought against the leader I have reference to were that he had goals and interests that converged with those of Hitler-though without any complicity between the two; that he did little to counter Hitler's "final solution" as he was by his religious faith and by his position absolutely required to do; that he and his followers were deceptive about precisely when they knew of the existence of the death camps; finally, and most unforgivably, that he and his followers gave precedence to their personal political concerns rather than to the rescue of Europe's Jews. There are other minor parallels having to do with temperament and administrative style: a certain air of haughtiness, of relishing the exercise of authority, of overriding opposing views, etc.--but those are obviously of little import.
The various charges I mention above have in varying form been brought against David Ben-Gurion and others associated with him in the foundational days of the state of Israel. One specific book representative of a "school" of revisionist Israeli students known as the New Historians is Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust (Tel Aviv, 1991; E.T., New York, 1993) by an American trained scholar, Tom Segev. Many of those charges as well as others dealing with the Palestinian question had been anticipated, and for many observers effectively refuted by Dina Porat in The Blue and Yellow Star of David (Tel Aviv, 1986; E.T., Cambridge,
1990). The charges have been directly addressed more recently by Shabtai Teveth in Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust (New York, 1996).
But at this point I want to move from the figures at center stage to their critics, some would say, their detractors. Since we are not talking about identical but about "parallel lives"-a genre with an ancient and honorable lineage-there is necessarily some imprecision involved, but the broader outline remains accurate. Just as the attack on Pius is putatively motivated by the need for "honesty" in the church and the larger good of Catholicism (as defined by some Catholic authors), so the attack on Ben-Gurion is motivated by "justice" for Palestinians and the larger good of the state of Israel (as defined by some Israeli authors). Denigrating Pius becomes a way of advancing an agenda of church "reform," just as denigrating Ben-Gurion becomes a way of advancing an agenda of political "reform"-and I have no doubt that there are scrupulous scholars of unquestioned integrity who can make a case against either or both men, a case that will be resolved only in the court of history. (Though it is obvious I haven't found that case being made with integrity or scrupulosity by the authors I have been criticizing.) It should go without saying that I hold no brief for Ben-Gurion or for partisans on any issue relating to Israeli politicians or politics. But just as I cited earlier Yehuda Elkana on the misfortunes attendant on the exploitation of the Shoah for Israeli political and cultural ends, I would here raise objections to its much more grievous-because extramural and arbitrary -exploitation by Catholics for ecclesiastical ends.
I present a final illustration of the latter. In a review of David L. Kertzer's The Popes against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism in The New York Times (September 23, 2001), Garry Wills writes of the author's "sickening task" covering "a stretch of two centuries" while not "giving way to the indignation most readers must feel," and resulting in a "staggeringly thorough job." To all of which anyone would probably say "amen," since the church's role in the horrors of antisemitism is a theme on which too much repetition or too many variations-of which Kertzer's book is clearly another-can never be enough. Equally enthusiastic was James Carroll in a front page story in the weekend "Arts & Ideas" section of The New York Times three weeks before Wills' review, where this author "of a critical history of the church's treatment of Jews" (i.e., Carroll) is quoted as saying: "The Vatican is obviously trying to backpedal as fast as it can from the dark history of the Catholic church. Kertzer is telling the truth."
As to "dark history" Kertzer acknowledges that he used the Vatican archives, and as to "trying to backpedal," it is difficult to see what makes it so obvious, since the last four decades have witnessed a vigorous program of dialogue and of public repentance moving forward at a pace unimaginable even during (much less, before) the conciliar years. Short of deliberate distortion it is almost inexplicable how Wills and Carroll could keep ignoring such progress, (61) and insist on living in the past, as if nothing had occurred in the forty years since Vatican II regarding Catholic-Jewish relations-particularly when most observers would say there has been a quantum leap towards increasingly amicable reconciliation. One is tempted to say: get a life now-stop all this gloating. Don't keep telling the gullible press, "I told you so!" at every putative exposé of the failures of historic Catholicism.
No Catholic feels any sense of vindication when reading that an Israeli "New Historian" has found a possible source of Christian blood libels in the alleged killing of their own children by Jews fearful of attacks by crusaders. (The thesis seems tenuous at best, and useless in exonerating Christians for perpetuating the myth.) Similarly, with another "New Historian's" contention that for centuries on the feast of Purim Jews would mock Christians by burning images of the crucifix. Why would anyone be surprised or embarrassed that people persecuted from time immemorial would seek some retaliatory measure, whether symbolic or not? Yet these disclosures have roiled not just Israeli scholarship but the population at large. (62)
The ardor of both Wills and Carroll regarding Kertzer's book is not due to the latter's belief that "the debate over what Pius XII might have done during the Holocaust is a distraction from a more important question-what did the Catholic church do to help bring on the Holocaust in the first place?" ("Much too much" is the obvious answer of history-an answer which has been reaffirmed again and again by the second Vatican Council and by two popes.) But the ardor exhibited by our two critics does indicate that a different target than Kertzer's concern with antisemitism is in view.. All those superlatives, "staggering," "thorough," "formidable achievement," come to their fine point in Wills' concluding comment on Pius IX: "Owen Chadwick said there was only one pope who would have canonized Pedro Arbués-Pius IX." (63) The next sentence, and the last statement in the review: "I am afraid, in the same way, that there was only one pope who would have beatified Pius IX-John Paul II."
Even in Wills' context of "papal sin," it would have been impossible to predict that this was where we would end up. The route is not merely circuitous, it is tortuously convoluted: from a nineteenth-century pope to a murdered fifteenth-century inquisitor, who was beatified in the next century, and then canonized three centuries later by that same nineteenth-century pope, Pius IX, who was in turn beatified in the twenty-first century by the suddenly emergent and climactically invoked-John Paul? Through this daedalean maze of history, what thread was followed, perhaps with Mary Gordon as Ariadne, to bring the monster slayer out of that labyrinth? So, now these critics have the real target in their sights and are once again ready to fire away. But there is a kind of perverse, self-destructive obsessiveness at work here that leads one to think that strabismus is symptomatic of myopia. John Paul II can certainly be criticized, as I have in these pages, for being increasingly centralist in his administration, for insisting on curial micromanagement of episcopal activities, for supporting the condemnation of wayward theologians, for trying to control traditionally independent agencies such as Catholic universities. The one thing he cannot be accused of is engaging in acts even remotely antisemitic-though he has certainly done things that offend individual Jews or Jewish groups, even as he has offended individual Catholics--Wills and Carroll for two-or Catholic groups. I excerpt from a statement of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Rabbinical Assembly in the year when it had been long known that Piux IX would be beatified (March 14, 2000):
The Pope has affirmed the irrevocable nature of God's covenant with the Jewish people. He has condemned anti-Semitism as a "sin against God." He has forged diplomatic relations with Israel, recognizing the Jewish State's right to exist within secure borders. He has called upon Christendom to engage in teshuva for the atrocities of the Holocaust. He has apologized for the excesses of the Crusades and the Inquisition.
John Paul II has so little in common with Pio Nono-except occasionally, a white soutane-that to link them ideologically is to be blinded to the obvious. Nor was Pius the creature of evil Wills habitually depicts-though he certainly was no saint: nor is he now. But he did assure Rosmini of a fair, though lengthy, investigation by the Roman censors, and he also made that gentle exponent of l'humanisme dévot, Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church. But the depiction is not even apparently motivated by the claims of historical honesty. It is motivated simply by a compulsion, once again, to magnify the enduring monstrosity of John Paul. (And to arbitrarily introduce his name into a book review of yet another dismal tale of Christian antisemitism is as astonishing and unexpected as it was a few years back for a dramaturge-theologue to suddenly bring up John Paul's name as that of a "homicidal liar and endorser of murder.") However, if indeed Paris was worth a mass, then who would question that the politic beatification of the sad figure of poor obsidian Pius-a bone for rightists to gnaw on-was worth getting down to the more serious business of, say, empaneling historians to investigate the inquisition, or cementing relations with Israel, or opening the door to church reunion, or speaking of the evils of capital punishment, even at the cost of aggravating the pope's physically infirm condition.
One more parallel. In the year 2000 Lerone Bennett published Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, one of several recent critical books, which also included The Confederate War by Gary Gallagher, and The Glittering Illusion by Sheldon Vanauken. It was the Bennett book, however, that received the most widespread attention in the majority of "mainstream" reviews (e.g., The New York Times, under the heading, "Lincoln the Devil"), accusing the author of not only bad scholarship but of failing to understand the genius of Lincoln, his political astuteness, and his recasting of the constitution to give primacy to the federal government over the states-though these criticisms did little to answer Bennett's fundamental contention that Lincoln was a white supremacist at heart, and that the Emancipation Proclamation, however strategically beneficial in winning the war, was in effect a hoax because it had no effect on slavery in the Confederacy, and explicitly did not apply to slaves in regions controlled by the Union. The state of Lincoln's "heart," is of relative unimportance; the second contention, however, is a crucial issue relating to an ethic of universal humanity.
That contention would be that Lincoln was responsible for crimes committed against slaves in the exempt regions from the period of the Proclamation to the passage of the thirteenth amendment-even though he had been assassinated a few months before the latter was passed. So for a span of approximately three years, people who could have been given their human (not "citizen") rights were treated as chattel, and this in the regions where the Union government was in control. Unpunished were such crimes-indeed, such acts were not even recognized as criminal-as the continuing dissolution of slave families, the selling of slave children, the rape of slave women, and on and on. (It says something about the callousness of the modern conscience that such acts are, even today, justified in the name of political expediency-after all, it was only three years--for the "long-term greater good.")
I introduce first a hypothesis, and second a familiar trope, concerning a laudatory review of Bennet's indeed quite worthy book-and certainly in terms of scholarship at least as commendable as those books that have been the primary focus of all my criticisms. Let us suppose that a hypothetical reviewer, after commending the author's detailed descriptions of slavery's evils, praised him for "not giving way to indignation," in "undertaking his sickening task," and in the end for producing a "formidable achievement." The reviewer then contrasted the book with the "orthodox" treatments of Lincoln, singling out a particular work that had glorified the president as a noble figure, a paragon of democratic vision. The reviewer went on to maintain that it would take a monster to praise a president who had been responsible for so many crimes against so many innocent and helpless people. The reviewer added that even if Lincoln's encomiast professed to ignorance about all those crimes of a century and a half ago, he simply must have known the truth.
Now I introduce my trope, parvis componere magna ("to compare great things to small"),
our hypothetical reviewer concludes, dramatically and possibly rather exaggeratedly: "I know of only one writer who would have so exalted Abraham Lincoln-Garry Wills in Lincoln at Gettysburg. Compare this with the conclusion to the review of Kertzer's The Popes against the Jews above: "I know of only one pope who would have beatified Pius IX-John Paul II." Both are seemingly arbitrary assaults; but in the case of Bennet's Lincoln book there is at least a target arguably guilty of the evils attributed to it.
Who is to say how much John Paul knows about the crimes attributed to Pedro Arbués or the evils attributed to Pius IX-or even how much Pius IX knew about events four centuries after they allegedly took place? We do know that John Paul in his address of October 31, 1998, to the Study Conference on the Inquisition which he had established said: "The problem of the Inquisition belongs to a troubled period of the Church's history, which I have invited Christians to revisit with an open mind." He then declared as he had earlier, "Another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth." (Again, to compare great things to small: that is more than we have heard the orthodox Lincoln scholar say about the Emancipation Proclamation.)
Anyone having a passing familiarity with Henry Kamen's Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (New York, 1998) or Edward M. Peters' Inquisition (New York, 1989) knows how fluid and unstable are old convictions based on folklore, prejudice, and superstition relating to the inquisition. Kamen's book is not just a revised version of the original Spanish Inquisition of thirty years ago; it is a new book, hence the unusual subtitle. Peters devotes much of his account to the popular and anti-Romanist "myths" (his word) that grew up around this peculiar institution. To briefly illustrate the fluctuations surrounding the inquisition in general and specifically the murder of Arbués, Henry Charles Lea, the canonical nineeteenth-century historian (after whom Edward Peters' professorial chair is named), believed the murder was an act of revenge by "conversos" or "new Christians," pejoratively known as "marranos." In this he had been followed by almost all scholars until The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain (New York, 1995) by B. Netanyahu-certainly the new standard bearer in the field-who believes Arbués was killed by the inquisition itself acting at the behest of King Ferdinand. "Revised" Kamen doubts this possibility for want of documentary evidence.
No one can defend even a single auto-da fé, but the point is that if for four hundred years the assassination was shrouded in fictions, fabrications, folktales, and even today is clouded by controversial versions, how would the truth be known to Pius IX, much less to the villainous John Paul? But among Lincoln scholars, save for Lerone Bennett and sympathetic followers, no one in authority and place has called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission or even a truth and justice commission to assess a possible historic evil on the part of a beloved president. There is such a commission for the inquisition, and it is looking at the relation of that body to several beloved popes. (64)
There are two lessons-which intermingle-to be drawn from this final illustration, first, on the relatively narrow ecclesial level, and second on the larger societal level. First, for the Catholics whom I have been discussing, the papal icon can be gleefully smashed while the political icon is to be carefully burnished; the "Holy Father" is to be demeaned while the "Founding Fathers" are to be exalted; many evils of modern life, both communal and individual, are less the fault of the national ethos and heritage than of historic Catholicism and the papacy; lastly, in both the practical and the speculative order, patriotism trumps piety (precisely one of the fears alleged by a few of the defenders of Pius XII's "silence") as Catholics settle into the "non-lasting city" rather than seek "the one which is to come."
Second, on the larger societal level, if antipapalism is the real antisemitism of all intellectuals, spiritual and physical racial animus is the antisemitism of the mass of white America, regardless of class. And this may be indicated in part by the reception given to Bennett"s book ("Lincoln the Devil") by those who have no problem with the demonization of popes, while whitewashing America's two and a half centuries of slavery. The whitewash takes the form of such bromides as that, while admittedly it was a problem, it was traditional, it was customary, it was a social convention, it was sanctioned over time, etc., and as far as the North was concerned it was on the way to being solved, according to Lincoln, "as fast as circumstances permit"-all made abundantly clear by books such as Lincoln at Gettysburg . To return the discussion to this book's primary focus, it should be noted that Pius XII's relation to the actual Holocaust during the war years--even if given the worst possible interpretation-is provably slight. This stands in sharp contrast to the glorification of Lincoln whose relation to the slave holocaust is provably causal during the last of the war years and before passage of the thirteenth amendment. Whether Lincoln from the period of his election onward intended to free the slaves is sub judice (perhaps to be resolved by the optative commission envisioned above), and remains unknown notwithstanding the verbal contortions and textual fundamentalism entailed in proving that Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" refers to fulfilling the promise of the first birth at the Declaration of Independence with its reference to "all men are created equal."
"You write with haste and without consideration;
you write on subjects which you have not studied,
and do not understand, and which are out of your
49. To mention only two: Alan T. Davies, Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind: The Crisis of Conscience after Auschwitz (1969), and Carl Amery, Capitulation: The Lesson of German Catholicism (1967). For the latter the descriptive text read: "...the institutional Church cravenly subjected itself to the powers of this world"; the text then went on to consider its relevance to American Catholicism in the late sixties: "...in danger of abdicating its principles.... The witness of its bishops has been blurred by chauvinistic utterances, by the failure to speak out against such indiscriminate weapons as napalm, by indifference to the struggle for civil rights, by active opposition to the legitimate organizing efforts of underprivileged farm workers, and by a massive identification of institutional religious health with the grossest material achievements."
50. There is almost an infinite calculus of factors. Religious groups like the French Protestants were more sympathetic to the plight of Jews than were Catholics, since the former two shared a common minority status. Bretons though a minority were less sympathetic because they hoped the Germans would support their nationalistic aspirations. No single definite element explains why French Jewish survivors far outnumbered survivors from most other western European nations. There was an active resistance movement, porous borders, and the relatively lenient Italian occupation in the south originally beyond the purview of Paris or Vichy. So too with other countries: Holland with a population equally divided between Catholics and Protestants lost almost 75% of its Jews, while Belgium predominantly Catholic lost only about 30%. Why Denmark suffered relatively few losses and Norway so many may be due mainly to discrepancies in official zealousness. This is simply to underline the obvious fact that not just religious elements must be weighed, but also geographic, temporal, cultural, administrative, etc..
51. A hiatus of a couple of decades would at least mean the entry of a new generation of researchers, a cooling of understandable but perhaps narrowly focused ardor, and an opportunity for archival examination free of the urgency of deadlines, as well as of Q and A insistencies.
52. The immediate context was the intifida, but the larger setting was a revaluation by a new generation of Israelis of the Zionists foundations of the state, of the role of victimization, of the Ashkenazi political and cultural dominance-all important issues, but for purposes of this analysis, issues of intermural Jewish concern. But for James Carroll who makes the basic relation of Judaism and Christianity the antisemitism culminating in the Holocaust, the words of Elkana may be worth reflecting upon: "For Israel to base its understanding of human existence on the Holocaust is disastrous.... Without overlooking the historical importance of collective memory, it is more important to take a stand on the side of life, to build a future...." A Christian voice has no place in this debate, except to strengthen whatever remedies it can offer. But no one should make the essential link between two religious visions--whose goal is to see human life sub specie aeternitatis--the Christian evils perpetrated during what is in the light of eternity a relatively brief segment of human intercourse. Catholics must remember, but not to the point where the past simply negates the future, particularly the future of relations with the faith of their elder sibling.
53. It is enlightening to read the balanced account of the popes and the Reich by the premier "Vaticanologist" and one of the papacy's severest critics of our era, Peter Hebblethwaite in Paul VI: The First Modern Pope. In spite of the journalistic title, this is a remarkably objective and thoroughly researched account. There are no gratuitous editorializing or slanted interpretations, nor is there any sniffing out of conspiracies and deceptions. It is a major history of the papacy covering seven decades as reflected in the life or as seen through the eyes of Paul VI. No where in the treatment of Pius XII does Wills refer to Hebblethwaite's work.
54. Diplomatic protocol as well perhaps as political prudence dictated--at least before the Allied powers' declaration of a policy of unconditional surrender--a lack of specificity
that might allow the pontiff to mediate between both warring parties. Relatively rare in the early years of the war was his mention of "the blood-stained soil of Poland and Finland" (though without naming Germany or Russia) in his Christmas message of 1939, and of his "paternal love for all our sons and daughters, whether of the Germanic peoples...or of the Allied states" on June 2, 1940. Nor is there any doubt that Pius was aware of the experience of another pontiff when, in the words of a passionate opponent of fascism, "Benedict XV was reproached during the last war for not having denounced the arrogance of German nationalism"--reproached by French nationalists. Cf. Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (New York, 1928).
55. On February 18, 2000 (in the Roman calendar, feast of St. Simeon, cousin of Jesus and successor to James the Less as bishop of Jerusalem and crucified in 107) the reigning Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a sermon around various texts of the Nobel prize awardee, referred to "as one of our greatest poets."
56. There is an unfortunate replication of the Wannsee Conference of a year before, also held in a resort area, where as a passing sop to any latent flicker of remorse among the conferees the notion was floated of Madagascar as a possible destination for soon to be dispossessed Jews-- though it was a foregone conclusion by the organizers and by Heydrich, the Chairman, that the "Final Solution," could only mean extermination.
57. Morley provides the original text with translation (Appendix H) of a communique-- from the Berlin Nunciature to the Vatican two weeks before Pius's Christmas message--which observed that "churchmen and laity have noted with amazement that until now the German episcopate has not made any collective manifestation on the question of the grave mistreatment inflicted on the Jews, while the French episcopate immediately took a position against racial legislation...; also voices of protest were raised in other nations."
58. It is simplistic and uninformed for Carroll to say: "If Pius XII had done what his critics, in hindsight, wish him to have done--excommunication of Hitler, revocation of the concordat, 'a flaming protest against the massacre of the Jews,' in Lewy's phrase-it would have been only a version of what Pius IX did in 1875 against Bismarck, and in 1871 against Garibaldi when he excommunicated all Italians who cooperated with the new Italian state." Constantine's Sword, (p. 534). First, in neither instance were the lives of millions hanging in the balance; second, neither nineteenth-century figure had anything in common with Hitler apart from being a leader of a political group; third, there were no consequences whatever to the alleged nineteenth-century excommunications. Five times in his book Carroll complains that Hitler was not excommunicated, as though this were a notion to be memorized, but not to be questioned and then analyzed--anymore than we are expected to analyze what appears from the above to be the excommunication of Bismarck (which never happened--he was a Lutheran by birth). The disconnect in the above quotation is incomprehensible. Pius IX--hitherto in all these accounts a fool and a villain-here becomes a model and a hero to be emulated by his successor; and this, because Pio Nono engaged in some papal gestures--then and now recognizably otiose.
59. The Israeli historian, Yehuda Bauer, while sharply differing with one functionalist historian, Goetz Aly, who argues in Endlösung (Frankfurt, 1955) that not racist ideology motivated Holocaust perpetrators, but primarily the geopolitical ambition to transfer all ethnic Germans from the Baltic states, the Balkans, and ultimately the Soviet Union to "the Eastern marches of Germany," that is, to conquered Poland. This would mean the "displacement of non-German populations--mainly Polish, but also Jewish and Roma." Bauer of course rejects the argument that the Holocaust was merely a "but also" item in plans for Germandom, but he
recognizes the fact "that there was nowhere to push these hundreds of thousands of Poles, Jews, and Roma." We know what happened to the Jews and Roma. What provocation, added to such Lebensraum concerns would it have taken to seek the Endlösung to the Polish problem?
(Cf. Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, New Haven, 2001.)
60. Some authors seem to envisage with complaisant acceptability a Murder-in-the-Cathedral (or rather -Basilica) scenario, as indicated by their frequent references to the apparently regrettable fact that "only one Catholic bishop died in the war"--actually there were three, but only the ghoulish would be counting.
61. One explanation may be found in the following bit of anonymous pseudo-Victorian doggerel:
Wills the journalistic sleuth
Discovers popes don't tell the truth.
In Constanatine Carroll cries
Theology's a pack of lies.
Such statements how can we combine?
This perhaps explains the mystery:
Wills thinks Carroll a divine,
And Carroll looks to Wills for history.
62. The two illustrations are described in Hadassah magazine (February, 1998); the historians' conflict has been widely discussed in the United States, in Commentary, Tikkun, and even Lingua Franca.
63. During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Augustinian canon regular, Pedro Arbués-who had been appointed chief inquisitor of Aragon by Torquemada, the grand inquisitor of Castile-was murdered a year after his appointment while at prayer in the cathedral of Saragossa. His supporters believed he was martyred by what were variously called marranos, conversos, new Christians, i.e., Jews, who over two centuries in order to save themselves from extermination by mobs had accepted baptism. In folk memory, Arbués is recalled as a master of excruciating torture, but that memory is verifiably uncertain. All of these events were prelude to the final solution of their Catholic Majesties' Jewish problem when after the conquest of Granada, all Jews were expelled, and the inquisition continued to persecute the marranos/ conversos, throughout the Spanish and Brazilian colonies.
64. For the same reason that a majority of ecclesiastics would not be regarded favorably in an investigation of popes and the inquisition, few would look favorably upon the presence of conventional Lincoln scholars on such a truth and justice commission which would be concerned with first, findings of fact, and second, compensatory redress if called for. Moreover, since there have been so many congressional hearings resulting in legislation relating to such things as civil rights, equal opportunity, even quotas, and since there are partisan and regional issues involved, such a commission would ideally be made up predominantly of social philosophers formed in the tradition of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice.