|"Pope Pius XII in Berlin." (Hulton Getty)|
By Dalya Alberge
The Observer, February 9, 2013
"Pius XII has long been vilified as 'Hitler's pope', accused of failing publicly to condemn the genocide of Europe's Jews. Now a British author has unearthed extensive material that Vatican insiders believe will restore his reputation, revealing the part that he played in saving lives and opposing nazism. Gordon Thomas, a Protestant, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before. The Pope's Jews, which will be published next month, details how Pius gave his blessing to the establishment of safe houses in the Vatican and Europe's convents and monasteries. He oversaw a secret operation with code names and fake documents for priests who risked their lives to shelter Jews, some of whom were even made Vatican subjects. Thomas shows, for example, that priests were instructed to issue baptism certificates to hundreds of Jews hidden in Genoa, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. More than 2,000 Jews in Hungary were given fabricated Vatican documents identifying them as Catholics and a network saved German Jews by bringing them to Rome. The pope appointed a priest with extensive funds with which to provide food, clothing and medicine. More than 4,000 Jews were hidden in convents and monasteries across Italy. During and immediately after the war, the pope was considered a Jewish saviour.
Jewish leaders -- such as Jerusalem's chief rabbi in 1944 -- said the people of Israel would never forget what he and his delegates 'are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour'. Jewish newspapers in Britain and America echoed that praise, and Hitler branded him 'a Jew lover'. However, his image turned sour in the 1960s, thanks to Soviet antagonism towards the Vatican and a German play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, which vilified the pope, accusing him of silence and inaction over the Jews. It was a trend that intensified with the publication of Hitler's Pope, a book by John Cornwell. However, as the Vatican's ambassador in Germany before the war, the future pope contributed to the damning 1937 encyclical of Pius XI, With Burning Anxiety, and, as Pius XII he made condemnatory speeches that were widely interpreted at the time -- including by Jewish leaders and newspapers -- as clear condemnations of Hitler's racial policies. Due to the Vatican's traditionally diplomatic language, the accusation that Pius XII did not speak out has festered. [...]"