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For the Record

(Reprinted from SOBRANS, August 2001, page 6
Text omitted from the print edition appears in blue)

Nothing, it seems, can dispel the notion that Pope Pius XII maintained a “shameful silence” about the persecution of Jews during World War II. But Ralph McInerny, in his book The Defamation of Pius XII, quotes what Jews, prominent and otherwise, were saying at the time.

“Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty,” said Albert Einstein in 1940.

In 1942 London’s Jewish Chronicle remarked: “A word of sincere and earnest appreciation is due from Jews to the Vatican for its intervention in Berlin and Vichy on behalf of their tortured co-religionists in France.... It was a step urged, to their honor, by a number of Catholics, but for which we may be sure the Holy Father himself, with his intense humanity and his clear sighted understanding of the true and deadly implications of the assaults on the Jewish people, needed no prompting.”

Dr. Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Romania, wrote in 1944: “In these hard times our thoughts turn more than ever with respectful gratitude to the Sovereign Pontiff, who has done so much for Jews in general.... In our worst hours of trial, the generous aid and noble support of the Holy See ... has been decisive. It is not easy to find the proper words to express the relief and solace which the magnanimous gesture of the Supreme Pontiff has given us, in offering a large subsidy in order to alleviate the sufferings of the deported Jews. Roumanian Jewry will never forget these facts of historical importance.”

After the Allies liberated Rome in 1944, a Jewish Brigade Group said in its Bulletin: “To the everlasting glory of the people of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church we can state that the fate of the Jews was alleviated by their truly Christian offers of assistance and shelter. Even now, many still remain in the religious homes and houses which opened their doors to protect them from deportation to certain death.”

[Breaker quote: Jewish testimony about Pius XII] One survivor, quoted in a Hebrew daily in Israel, said: “If we have been rescued, if Jews are still alive in Rome, come with us and thank the Pope in the Vatican.”

A committee of the American Jewish Welfare Board, wrote to Pius himself: “We have received reports from our military chaplains in Italy of the aid and protection to Italian Jews by the Vatican, priests, and church institutions during the Nazi occupation of the country. We are deeply moved by this extraordinary display of Christian love — the more so as we know the risk incurred by those who afforded shelter to Jews.... From the bottom of our hearts we send you the assurances of undying gratitude.”

The elders of one liberated camp went to Rome and presented Pius with a letter: “Now that the victorious Allied troops have broken our chains and liberated us from captivity and danger, may we, the Jewish internees of Ferramonti, be permitted to express our deepest and devoted thanks for the comfort and help which Your Holiness deigned to grant us with fatherly concern and infinite kindness throughout our years of internment and persecution.... In doing so Your Holiness has as the first and highest authority on earth fearlessly raised his universally respected voice, in the face of our powerful enemies, in order to defend openly our rights to the dignity of man.... When we were threatened with deportation to Poland in 1942, Your Holiness extended his fatherly hand to protect us, and stopped the transfer of the Jews interned in Italy, thereby saving us from almost certain death. With deep confidence and hope that the work of Your Holiness may be crowned with further success, we beg to express our heartfelt thanks while we pray to the Almighty: May Your Holiness reign for many years on this Holy See and exert your beneficent influence over the destiny of the nations.”

A few months later the World Jewish Congress sent a telegram to the Holy See thanking it for its protection “under difficult conditions to the persecuted Jews in German dominated Hungary.”

The chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Isaac Herzog, said: “I thank the Pope and the Church from the bottom of my heart for all the help they have afforded.”

Moshe Sharett, a leading Zionist, summed up his personal interview with Pius: “I told him that my first duty was to thank him, and through him, the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public, for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews, to save children, and Jews in general. We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Church for what she did in those countries to help save our brothers.”

Dr. Leon Kubowitzky of the World Jewish Council offered a large monetary donation to the Vatican “in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions.”

Raffaele Cantoni of Italy’s Jewish Welfare Committee said: “The Catholic Church and the papacy have given proof that they have saved as many Jews as they could.”

These noble and moving words require little comment. I record them here for the honor of Pius, the Catholic Church, and the good men who uttered them.

Joseph Sobran

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