March 11, 2009 at 2:25 pm #1879
[i:3p20tv0r][b:3p20tv0r]I thought this would be interesting both in light of the recent (and good) questions about Martin Luther, and because of my family history of being given documents allowing the exit from Europe during WWII, by the man who would become Pope John XXIII, under the instruction of Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII issued secret orders that Jews in Rome be hidden in Convernts and Monastic Houses. He also encouraged Bishops in Europe to hide or otherwise help Jews excape the Nazi grip. Without the intervention of Pope Pius XII many in my family would not have survived.[/b:3p20tv0r][/i:3p20tv0r]
And on March 8-9, Yad Vashem. The museum consists of a long corridor connected to 10 exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different chapter of the Holocaust, telling the story of the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective) convened a meeting of Pius scholars from around the world to offer documentary evidence that supports or contradicts Yad Vashem’s description of Pius XII’s actions in the face of Hitler’s genocide.
Essentially what Yad Vashem did was to arrange an off-the-record debate among Pius experts (though the word “expert” should be used with caution, as some so-called “experts” can be quite wrong-headed about Pius XII). On one side were its own in-house authorities (who composed the display). They were augmented by two anti-Pius American historians, and an Australian, who have criticized Pius for years. On the other side were five European scholars who are convinced, especially by new archival evidence, that Pius was a fierce foe of Hitler and a passionate defender of Jews.
What is the likely result of the Yad Vashem debate? Foremost, if a careful record of all that was said has been kept, the meeting could provide a fascinating portrait of the way certain contemporary historians work and how they arrive at their conclusions. But will there be any drastic shift in attitudes, any overwhelming consensus? Not very likely. In an Israel National News report last fall, Yad Vashem stood by the description that appears next to the photograph of Pope Pius XII.
“The study of the Holocaust period in general, including the role of Pope Pius XII, is ongoing and dynamic,” a museum statement says. “The presentation of the subject in the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem is based on the best research regarding this topic.”
As historians themselves realize, complete objectivity is seldom achieved. We have to keep in mind the elderly Lord Acton’s carefully considered observation: “Impartial men make good historians, but it is the partial and one-sided who hunt out the material.” Too often in the case of Pius, historians have found only what they wanted to find.
There is, however, a rising tide of documents touching on Pius that must, sooner or later, move fair-minded scholars to make sounder judgments. It is only a question of time before the narrow, political biases that have been at work will be overcome. Maybe that time arrived in early March at Yad Vashem. Inside the Vatican will do its best to find out exactly what happened.
Ironically, one of the major players in the new wave of pro-Pius XII research is an American, Gary Krupp Krupp is Jewish, and he heads the Pave the Way organization, a non-sectarian public foundation devoted to “identifying and eliminating non-theological obstacles between the faiths.” Krupp believes hard facts, rather than emotion, should guide such debates, and are the best way to overcome unnecessary conflicts among the world’s religions. His organization hosted a very important Symposium on Pius XII in Rome last September, attended by many distinguished guests. The conference, which received extensive media coverage and was endorsed by Pope Benedict, who received the participants, presented new documentary evidence and videotaped testimony, revealing how Eugenio Pacelli not only “spoke out” against Nazism early and often but repeatedly intervened for Jews as papal nuncio to Germany (1917-1929); Cardinal Secretary of State under Pius XI (1930-1939); and as Pope himself (1939-1958). Pave the Way’s website has already posted much of this new information online.
The evidence is having its effect. Three acclaimed books, all of which come to a favorable conclusion about Pius, have recently appeared: The Pope who Defied Hitler: The Truth about Pius XII by Michael Hesemann, an eminent German historian, associated with Pave the Way; The Longest Winter, 1943-1944: Pius XII, the Jews, and the Nazis in Rome by Andrea Riccardi, Professor of Modern Church History at the University of Rome; and Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Peter, a 661-page biography by Andrea Tornielli, who was one of the top scholars chosen for the Yad Vashem discussions.
Until the final truth about Pius XII is fully established, however, politics will keep the battle raging.
Maybe the most important development in the restoration of Pius XII’s good name will come from Benedict’s visit to the Holy Land from May 8 to 15. If the Yad Vashem meeting achieved any substantial understanding, its effect should be public by the time of the Pope’s visit. A positive development there would contribute greatly to an improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations, and might well move Benedict to announce his long-delayed decision.
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