Skip to comments.LEADING HISTORIAN PRAISES CATHOLICS AND PIUS XII
Posted on 08/05/2003 4:35:13 PM PDT by Tantumergo
In an exclusive interview in the August 2003 issue of Inside the Vatican, Sir Martin Gilbert, the outstanding World War II and Holocaust historian, and Winston Churchills official biographer, extolls the actions of World War II Christians, Catholics and Pope Pius XII in rescuing great numbers of Jews during the Holocaust.
Gilbert's glowing tribute is based on careful analysis of thousands of eye-witness accounts and extensive documentary evidence.
The wide-ranging conversation between Gilbert, who is Jewish, and Inside the Vatican contributor William Doino took place in conjunction with the publication of Gilbert's 72nd book, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (Henry Holt: New York, 2003; 529pp.).
Here we present some highlights from the interview (for the complete text, see the current issue of Inside the Vatican).
Gilbert, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1995, granted the interview for the same reason he wrote The Righteous -- because of his conviction that it was vital for the world to understand how many Christians, and particularly Catholics, risked their lives and those of their families in acting to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
He left no doubt about his deep feelings on this matter: It is especially important for Jewish people -- and I am Jewish myself -- to realize that there were so many Christian rescuers. The number of those who have been identified as Righteous by Israel now stands at 20,000. And of course there were many more rescuers who were murdered after they were caught, together with those they were trying to save, whose stories have never seen the light of day.
Among these 20,000, Gilbert said that it is generally true that almost none of these people only rescued one person, and that because of their actions we can be talking of as many as 100,000 Jews saved. But these numbers, Gilbert stressed, only reflect those Christians who have been officially honored by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial institution which bestows the title, Righteous Among the Nations, upon Gentiles who rescued Jews. The names of countless other rescuers have never become known, the people they saved have not come forward, or the people they saved died before they could come forward, or the rescuer and the rescued were both caught and killed, with nobody recording their story. It could well be that half a million Jews saved is not an exaggerated figure. We are certainly talking about something on the scale of hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands.
Among the Righteous, said Gilbert, were many non-Catholic heroes: the Lutherans in Norway, the Orthodox in Bulgaria, the Baptists in the Ukraine, the leadership of the Ukrainian Uniate Church, the Evangelicals in Germany, Protestants, nonconformists.... But essentially the predominant Church in Europe was the Roman Catholic Church, and the predominant clergy were Roman Catholic clergy, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII.
Consequently, said Gilbert, the majority of Jews saved were saved by faithful, Righteous, Roman Catholics.
Asked if this meant he agreed with the Vaticans 1998 declaration on the Holocaust (We Remember) that hundreds of thousands of Jews were rescued under Pius XII, Gilbert replied that if that estimate was meant to include the entire wartime Catholic Church, including the Vatican, the clergy, religious and the laity, the answer was, Yes, that is certainly correct. Hundreds of thousands of Jews saved by the entire Catholic Church, under the leadership, and with the support of, Pope Pius XII -- would, to my mind, be absolutely correct.
Discussing the wartime record of Pope Pius XII, the scholar rejected many of the accusations launched against the wartime pontiff in recent years. He pointed to Vatican Radios January 1940 condemnations against Nazi atrocities against Jews and Catholics in Nazi-occupied Poland, and explained its significance: The Vatican, under Pius XII, had taken a public stand against Nazi atrocities in Poland, very early on. That is something on the public record which cannot be taken away, denied or disparaged. To assert Pius XII was silentabout Nazi mass murder is a serious error of historical fact. He said that the Popes Christmas message of 1942, which condemned the extermination of people based upon their race or descent was extremely important, because it put the Pope squarely and publicly against the Holocaust.
Further, he argued, because it came only a week after the Allies had published their own condemnation of the Nazi genocide, the two actions should be seen as part of the same anti-Nazi campaign: The Allied declaration and Pius XII's Christmas message were directly and inextricably linked acts of denunciation.
Gilbert noted that Pius XII was personally involved in rescue efforts during the German occupation of Rome, when he personally ordered the Vatican clergy to open the sanctuaries of Vatican City to persecuted Jews and others in need of refuge at that time.
He dismissed claims by recent polemicists that rescue activity in Italy and elsewhere was always independent of Pius XII: I am on the side of those who argue for a connection between the Pope and the Catholic rescuers. You cannot say that the Pope is the supreme head of the Catholic Church and did nothing, and then, in the next breath, speak of all these wonderful acts of Catholic charity and rescue -- especially by senior men of the Church who pledged fidelity to the pontiff -- and claim that the Pope had nothing to do with their rescue efforts.
Gilbert underlined the many rescue efforts of papal diplomats, such as Angelo Rotta in Hungary and Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII) in Bulgaria and Turkey, who, acting upon the direct instructions of Pius XII, intervened to save thousands of persecuted Jews. Their heroism was clearly part of the overall rescue campaign carried out by the Church, of thousands upon thousands of faithful Catholics, acting in step with the Pope to defeat the Nazis and protect the persecuted.
A fact that Gilbert strove to make absolutely clear was that Pius XII and other rescuers acted under extremely dangerous circumstances, forcing them to act with caution, a necessary tactical policy that is today misunderstood and misrepresented as timidity by those who have no concept of what it is like to operate, day-by-day, under a ruthless totalitarian regime.
Far from being timid, said Gilbert, Pius XII was very active in early wartime plots to overthrow Hitler, via the anti-Nazi German Resistance.
Subsequently, according to Gilbert, Pius XII, through his many allocutions, instructions and activities, did speak out and provide clear moral guidance to the faithful, but did so in ways that were designed not to undermine the Churchs rescue efforts.
Gilbert said that it would have been highly irresponsible for the Pope to have gone beyond that and acted in a provocative or foolhardy way in public -- as some now imagine he should have.
Gilbert's considered conclusion: I believe, all things considered, morally and politically, Pius XII acted appropriately and made the right decision.
Gilbert also had some counsel for those Catholics who deal with the history of those tragic years of World War II.
He would not want anti-Semitism among Christians understated or underestimated, but he does feel strongly that authentic Christianity has been unfairly blamed for the Holocaust and that the facts of authentic Christianity in those years have not been fully told. He advised: I think Catholics should give more publicity to these facts. As the saying goes, you have to fly your flag at the main; you have to raise your flag on the highest flagpole with pride.
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BTTT on 08-21-04, St. Pius X Memorial Feast Day.
OOps, wrong pope!
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