Sobran Column -- Hitler's Pope?
Sobrans -- 
The Real News of the Month

Hitler’s Pope?

September 14, 1999

A new book, Hitler’s Pope, by John Cornwell, just published by Viking and excerpted in Vanity Fair, renews the old charge that Pope Pius XII was anti-Semitic and did little or nothing to save Jews from Adolf Hitler during World War II. Mr. Cornwell, a Catholic, says he started out to defend Pius from the charge, gained access to Vatican archives, and says what he found there changed his mind, leaving him in a state of “moral shock.”

Mr. Cornwell contends that Pius, born Eugenio Pacelli, wanted to strengthen the papacy against democratizing forces within the Catholic Church. So he cut deals with Hitler and undermined the strong German Catholic opposition to National Socialism. Obsessed with Communism, he ignored the plight of the Jews, for whom he had a lifelong contempt. He thought they “deserved” their dark fate.

In a key sentence, Mr. Cornwell himself mischievously inserts the word “deserved”; Pius, he tacitly admits, did not use it. Citing a 1938 Vatican document, he writes: “And now, ‘blinded by their dream of worldly gain and material success,’ they [the Jews] deserved the ‘worldly and spiritual ruin’ that they had brought down upon themselves.”

So Mr. Cornwell is paraphrasing a Vatican paper, apparently a draft of a papal encyclical that was never issued. Pius himself didn’t even write the document, but Mr. Cornwell artfully imputes anti-Semitism to it, then infers that this reflects Pius’s personal attitude. What scholarship! By such methods you can prove anything you like.

Mr. Cornwell also leans heavily on a single unflattering sentence Pius wrote in 1919 (20 years before he became Pope), describing a Russian Jewish Communist he saw in Germany: “Pale, dirty, with vacant eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both intelligent and sly.” To Mr. Cornwell, this somehow proves that Pius felt “a suspicion of and contempt for the Jews ... a scorn and revulsion consistent with anti-Semitism.” If you find one Jew “repulsive,” you must be willing to see all Jews persecuted, right?

“It gives a Catholic no satisfaction to accuse a Pope of acquiescing in the plans of Hitler,” Mr. Cornwell writes. Oh? On the contrary, it seems to give many Catholics satisfaction, not to mention profit. Can you imagine a major New York publisher or magazine welcoming a book in defense of Pius XII?

The charge has been refuted many times, for those who care. But Pius’s name has nevertheless remained the target of unstinting slander, often by disaffected Catholics.

Father Pierre Blet, a French priest-historian who knows the Vatican archives as well as any man alive, cites case after case on which Mr. Cornwell has ignored the evidence of Pius’s opposition to National Socialism (which he called “diabolical”) and of his efforts to help Jewish refugees. He notes that “Nazi propaganda ... portrayed Pius XII as an enemy of Germany.”

But we needn’t rely only on the archives. Pius’s saintly life is attested by the most authoritative character witness: Israel Zolli, chief rabbi of Rome during World War II.

Under the personal influence of Pius, Zolli became a Catholic. Unlike many who converted in order to escape the Germans, he deferred his formal conversion until after the war, not wanting to abandon his people during their ordeal.

But when the war ended, Zolli and his wife joined the Catholic Church, taking “Eugenio” — Pius’s Christian name — as their own baptismal name. As a priest recently remarked to me, “He must have seen Christ in Pius.”

Converting to Catholicism is a difficult step for a Jew, especially for one who holds a prominent position. And Zolli paid for it: he was widely reviled as a traitor to the Jews. One leading American rabbi even charged that he had been bribed to convert!

It’s inconceivable that Zolli would have honored Pius by taking his name if he had thought that Pius was in any way favorable to Hitler. After the war, in fact, many leading Jews praised Pius for his wartime protection and rescue efforts. One of them was a future Israeli prime minister named Golda Meir.

Joseph Sobran

Archive Table of Contents

Current column

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive | Back Issues of SOBRANS 
 WebLinks | Scheduled Appearances | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas | Notes from the Webmaster
  Contact Us | Back to the home page 

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1999 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate