Pope Pius XII, Hitler, and the Jewish people

Pope Pius XII, Hitler, and the Jewish people

"There probably was not a single ruler of our generation who did more to help the Jews in their hour of greatest tragedy during the Nazi occupation of Europe, than the late Pope."

- The Jewish Post, Nov. 6, 1958

Throughout history there have been a handful of Popes who, in one way or another, have either been bad or lukewarm. There have also been periods where the Church did not show Jesus' love for the Jewish people, our older brothers in the faith. Sometimes Church history has been marked by severe anti-Semitism and even violence.

However, 1933-1945 was not one of those periods. Although Pope Pius XII was a reserved and measured man, a diplomat, and a man of prudence and prayer, it is a big mistake to paint him as passive, or to smother him with the cloak of silent anti-Semitism.

During World War II, the Vatican was one of the few places on the continent where the Jewish people had any allies. Pope Pius XII hid Jews under his roof at the Vatican and Castle Gandolf. The strategy included refuge in numerous seminaries and convents, baptism certificates (see explanation below), and many other tactics that resulted in up to 860,000 saved Jews (according to Pinchas Lipade, Israeli consul in Italy). Even if it was half that number, it would be more 40 times more than Schindler.

"The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. He is about the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all."

- Editorial, New York Times, Dec. 25, 1941

Any time Pius tried to speak out against Hitler directly, there were quick repercussions, deaths and increased oppression for both Jews and Catholics. Shrill and frothy words, lightning bolts and excommunications from the Pope during those years would have resulted in millions more deaths. Pope Pius XII was a prayerful, strategic man who was a diplomatic genius. He made an incredible difference to Catholics and Jews whose lives were hanging in the balance as he navigated the Church safely through the most dangerous time of its existence since the early centuries of oppression under the Romans.

The watershed in public opinion against Pope Pius XII

Immediately following the war, Pius XII was praised by Jewish leaders, including Albert Einstein and Golda Meir. This was the prevailing cultural attitude for 18 years until 1963, when a play called "The Deputy" written by Rolf Hochhuth portrayed the Pope as a Nazi collaborator. It was a water shed, a brilliant piece of sensationalist anti-Catholic revisionist history. Before the play was created, there was no question about Pope Pius' integrity. The power of art to shape public opinion and begin an avalanche is breathtaking.

His reputation took another blow in 1999 in a book called Hitler's Pope, by John Cornwell. Its main thesis was that Pope Pius XII could have done more to save the Jews, and therefore he was anti-Semitic by inaction. The book was quoted frequently in the press and spawned a frenzy of anti Pope activity, even though it was highly criticized in Newsweek for its multiple factual errors "on almost every page". Five years after its publication, the author John Cornwell changed his story and said that Pius was so limited by Mussolini and the circumstances of Nazi oppression that he could not judge Pius' motives. (Economist, 9 December 2004, John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter, 2004, p. 193) Unfortunately, the damage was done and secondary sources quoting this book would ensure that the misleading information would be perpetuated.

John Paul II's approach to bringing down communism mirrored Pius XII's approach to the Nazis

Pope Pius XII's strategy against the Nazi's, was mirrored by Pope John Paul II's strategic role in the downfall of Communism. Pope Pius viewed Nazism with the same contempt as John Paul II viewed Communism.

John Paul II verses Communism and Pius XII verses Nazism
Neither Pope had a single tank, and each was facing threat from a mighty army with an insane and murderous leader who had every intention of destroying the Church.

"How many divisions has the Pope?" asked Stalin of Pope Pius the XII. Yet a generation later Pope John Paul II achieved things far beyond tanks or cruise missiles. When facing an enemy that has tanks, guns and a mighty army, do not run blindly at the opponent with bare hands. The victory is in prayer, diplomacy, and strategy. If John Paul II would have started speaking shrilly against communism there would have been much greater persecution, more death, and his long term efforts would have failed. He worked in a muted way behind the scenes, saving lives, supporting resistance efforts, and working to dismantle the foundations of tyranny. This is exactly what Pius XII did with Hitler. Both regimes fell, thank God. Jewish Scholar of the Holocaust, Jeno Levai, spoke of Pius XII:

"...particularly regrettable irony that the one person in all of occupied Europe who did more than anyone else to halt the dreadful crime and alleviate its consequences is today made the scapegoat for the failures of others..."

- Jeno Levai, Jewish Scholar of the Holocaust

Pinchas Lipade, Israeli consul in Italy after the war said:

"The Catholic Church under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving lives of as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands. [This] figure far exceeds those saved by all other Churches and rescue organizations combined."

- Three Popes and the Jews, pp. 214–215)

Another fact that is virtually unknown among those criticising the Pope is that:

Pius XII never met Hitler either before or after becoming Pope.

Praise from the Jewish Community

Golda Meir, Israel’s representative to the United Nations, was the first of the delegates to react to the news of Pope Pius XII’s death. She sent an eloquent message:

"We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII. In a generation afflicted by wars and discords he upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace."

The great Jewish physicist, Albert Einstein, who himself barely escaped annihilation at Nazi hands, made the point well in 1944 when he said:

"Being a lover of freedom, when the Nazi revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, but the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, but they, like the universities were silenced in a few short weeks. Then I looked to individual writers . . . they too were mute. Only the Church, stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth. . . I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel great affection and admiration . . . and am forced thus to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly."

Vatican's official position of neutrality

The Catholic Church is the Church of all countries, and has historically stayed out of all conflicts between Christian nations. During WWII there were Catholics in Germany, and there were Catholics in the allied countries. It is a great sadness to our Lord when Catholics are bringing arms against one another because of the countries to which they belong.

During World War II, Pope Pius XII never publicly condemned the massacre of 1.8–1.9 million mainly Catholic Polish gentiles (including 2,935 members of the Catholic Clergy), nor did he ever publicly condemn the Soviet Union for the deaths of 1,000,000 mainly Catholic Polish gentile citizens including an untold number of clergy.

Yet, Pius XII aided the German resistance plot to overthrow Hitler. He relayed intelligence from Germany to England, knowing the risk involved, which could result in the complete annihilation of the Vatican under Mussolini's control and later under Hitler's control. Here was a Pope, a former secretary of state to Germany (before the Nazi's got into power) giving intelligence to the British about German military operations.

Never in all history had a Pope engaged so delicately in a conspiracy to overthrow a tyrant by force.

Hitler's persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany before the war

Hitler said:

"I promise you, if I wished to, I could destroy the Church in a few years; it is hollow and rotten and false through and through. One push and the whole structure would collapse... I shall give them a few years reprieve...The Church was something really big. Now we are its heirs. We, too, are the Church. Its day has gone..."

"... as long as the youth follow me I don't mind if the old people limp to the confessional ...I shall make them appear ridiculous and contemptible. I shall order films to be made about them. We shall show the history of the monks on the cinema. Let the whole mass of nonsense, selfishness, repression and deceit be revealed; how they drained money out of the country...how they committed incest. We shall make it so thrilling that everyone will want to see it. There will be queues outside the cinemas."

In 1932 before Hitler got into power, 65% of German youth went to Catholic schools. In 1937, it was 3%. Catholic youth groups were forbidden to compete in sports. Hitler set up a separate educational structure. He also said:

"The most dangerous activity of countless Catholic clergy is the way in which they 'mope about', spreading despondency. Favorite topics are the "dangers of a new time", "the present emergency", "the gloomy future". Prophecies are made about the speedy downfall of National Socialism or at the very least mention is made of the transience of all political phenomena, compared with the Catholic Church which will outlive them all. National Socialist achievements and successes are passed over in silence. ... There is thus a deliberated undermining of the very basis of the National Socialist program of reconstruction, the people's trust in leadership of the state."

Soon after, the leader of Catholic Action, Erich Klausener was murdered in the purge. Hundreds of priests and Catholic officials were arrested or driven into exile while others were accused of violating currency regulations or morality rules.

In 1938, Pius XII wrote a letter instructing universities and seminaries to "make use of biology, history, philosophy, apologetics, legal and moral studies as weapons for refuting firmly and completely the ...untenable assertions" of race set forth by the Nazis.

Before becoming Pope Pius XII, Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli, in a formal protest, asserted that "a planned attack is in progress against Catholic schools." Hitler handed it back:

"The heaviest blow to humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jews."

Hitler planned to set up a National Reich Church which would be a shell for his ideologies. Meanwhile, Hitler was not happy about the appointment of Pacelli (Pius XII), which was chronicled in Jewish news at the time.

"The frantic attempts, therefore, which has [sic] been made by Nazis and Fascists to influence the [papal] election, by speech, suggestions, and counsel, in favor of a cardinal friendlier to Hitler and Mussolini was ultimately foiled. The clumsy advice which... Germany's Cardinals... has already received an answer as unequivocal as the advice was arrogant. The plot to pilfer the Ring of the Fisherman has gone up in white smoke." (The Canadian Jewish Chronicle)

When the Pope was elected war was imminent, and the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel elected the most experienced and brilliant diplomat available.

[He was] "cool and critical" thinking, "a veritable prince of diplomats"...."Pacelli takes a long time to make a decision of importance. Once it is made, however, one may be sure that it is the result of profound analysis and meditation."

Pacelli was welcomed as Pope Pius XII in every country except for Germany. The day after his election (March 3, 1939), the Nazi newspaper, Berliner stated its position clearly: "the election of Cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism."

Pacelli's abhorrence of anti-Semitism was seen a year earlier, during a visit to America, when he publicly snubbed the notorious anti-Semitic radio priest Charles Coughlin--choosing, instead, to meet with Jewish leaders. Shortly thereafter Coughlin mysteriously vanished from the airwaves and, as Dalin notes, he always blamed Pacelli for his fate.

A report written by Pacelli the following year for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and filed with Ambassador Joseph Kennedy declared that the Church regarded compromise with the Third Reich as “out of the question” (Joseph Bottum. 2004, April. The End of the Pius Wars". First Things Magazine Retrieved 1 July 2009.)

Nazi persecution of the Church in Germany then began by "outright repression" and "staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum of publicity." When Dutch bishops protested against the deportation of Jews, the Nazis responded by deporting Jewish converts, including Edith Stein.

The great Evangelical radio personality Chuck Colson wrote an article about Bishop Von Galen in Germany who sternly opposed the Nazis and who in August 1941, delivered a series of sermons against the Nazis regarding the euthanasia of disabled persons. The sermons started a firestorm in Germany and was played on the BBC in England. Chuck Colson writes:

Bishop Clemens Von Galen... Von Galen himself expected to be martyred. But something extraordinary happened: The Nazis backed down. The bishop’s sermons had galvanized the public: nurses and orderlies began to obstruct the program. So Hitler issued an order suspending the gassing of disabled adults.... As Evans has written, but for von Galen’s actions, the Nazis would have continued unhindered in their quest to rid German society of “those they continued to be a burden to it.” ...Von Galen outlived the Third Reich but not by much: shortly after being made a Cardinal in 1946, he died from an appendix infection. But he wasn’t forgotten: in 2005, he was beatified by the Catholic Church. In Catholic terms, that makes him the “Blessed Clemens von Galen.” But it is we who are blessed by examples like his and that of Lothar Kreyssig. They stood up for life in circumstances we can’t imagine and forced a demonic dictatorship to back down ...Imagine what we could accomplish today with their kind of commitment and courage.

The Mit brenender Sorge, the Pope writes a tract directly against Nazism and distributes it in Germany

Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism wrote the Pope, which resulted in an Encyclical called Mit brenender Sorge. It was one of the strongest condemnations of any national regime that the Holy See ever published. It condemned not only the persecution of the Church in Germany, but also the Neo-paganism of Nazi theories. The Pope wrote:

“Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State... above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God”

There was a brazen swipe at Hitler and his desire to kill the Church and set up a National Church governed by the Gestapo:

“None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are ‘as a drop of a bucket’ (Isaiah XI, 15).”

The Pope's encyclical concluded with the prophetic statement:

“enemies of the Church, who think that their time has come, will see that their joy was premature.”

Unlike most encyclicals, which are written in Latin, Mit brennender Sorge was written in German for wider dissemination in that country. It was smuggled out of Italy, copied and distributed to parish priests to be read from all of the pulpits on Palm Sunday, March 14, 1937. No one who heard the Pontifical document read in church had any illusion about the gravity of these statements or their significance. Certainly the Nazis understood their importance.

An internal German memorandum dated March 23, 1937, called Mit brennender Sorge “almost a call to do battle against the Reich government.” All available copies were confiscated. German printers who had made copies were arrested and the presses were seized. Those convicted of distributing the encyclical were arrested, the Church-affiliated publications which ran the encyclical were banned, and payments due to the Church from the Government were reduced.

The day following the release of Mit brennender Sorge, a Nazi newspaper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, carried a strong counterattack on the “Jew-God and His deputy in Rome.” Das Schwarze Korps, official paper of the SS, called it “the most incredible of Pius XI’s pastoral letters; every sentence in it was an insult to the new Germany.” The German ambassador to the Holy See was instructed not to take part in the solemn Easter ceremonies, and German missions throughout Europe were informed by the Nazi Foreign Office of the “Reich’s profound indignation”. They were also told that the German government “had to consider the Pope’s encyclical as a call to battle... as it calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the Reich.”

Hitler verbally attacked the German bishops at a mass rally in Berlin, and he dictated a letter of protest to the Pope, complaining that the Vatican had gone to the people instead of coming to him. Vatican Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII), rebuffed German protests, noting that the German government had not been cooperative in the past when the Vatican complained about the various matters (including the Nazis treatment of Jews). In May, Hitler was quoted in a Swiss newspaper saying, “the Third Reich does not desire a modus vivendi with the Catholic Church, but rather its destruction with lies and dishonor, in order to make room for a German Church in which the German race will be glorified.”

Pope Pius XII during the war

Approximately 3,000,000 Catholics died in German concentration camps. Source: Barnett, Victoria (1992). For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler. Oxford University Press US.

In August 2006 extracts from the 60-year-old diary of a nun of the Convent of Santi Quattro Coronati were published in the Italian press, stating that Pope Pius XII ordered Rome's convents and monasteries to hide Jews during World War II.

The Pope worked through papal nuncios on the scene, public statements challenging Nazi beliefs, quiet negotiations for immigration, and stealth tactics of hiding Jewish refugees, baptizing when necessary, and issuing false papers. This was, after all, occupied Europe with the Vatican existing on a few acres within an Axis state. Preserving Vatican neutrality, and the capability of the Church to continue to function where possible in occupied Europe and Nazi-allied states, was a far better strategy to save lives.


The Pope employed Jewish cartographer Roberto Almagia to work on old maps in the Vatican library. Almagia had been at the University of Rome since 1915 but was dismissed after Benito Mussolini's anti-semitic legislation of 1938. The Pope's appointment of two Jews to the Vatican Academy of Science as well as the hiring of Almagia were reported by The New York Times in the editions of 11 November 1939, and 10 January 1940.

Pius engineered an agreement — formally approved on 23 June 1939 — with Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas to issue 3,000 visas to "non-Aryan Catholics". However, Brazil’s Conselho de Imigração e Colonização tightened restrictions on their issuance, including requiring a baptismal certificate dated before 1933, a substantial monetary transfer to the Banco do Brasil, and approval by the Brazilian Propaganda Office in Berlin.

Pius XII turned the Vatican into a centre of aid which he organized from various parts of the world. At the request of the Pope, an information office for prisoners of war and refugees operated in the Vatican under Giovanni Battista Montini, which in the years of its existence from 1939 until 1947 received almost 10 million (9,891,497) information requests and produced over 11 million (11,293,511) answers about missing persons.

In his first encyclical Summi Pontificatus (20 October 1939), Pius rejected anti-semitism, stating that in the Catholic Church there is "neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision." Pius XII publicly condemned the Nazi invasion in it, and Time magazine reported that France and Britain were favourably surprised by the encyclical.

Wartheland, the incubator for Hitler's persecution of the Catholic Church

Hilter usually created incubator experiments before he went full out on any evil scheme. He did many gas chamber experiments before going full scale, and he also created a model for his conquest over the Catholic Church.

The Wartheland area was not only the mass extermination of Jews, but was also an experimental area for Hitler to eliminate Christianity. Churches would be reduced to corporations, only adults could join, Catholics were cut off from the Holy See. Minimum age for marriage was 28 for men 25 for women. In 1941, the government announced the formation of the "Roman Catholic Church of German nationality in the Reich District Wartheland". It was government controlled, with Gestapo regulation of worship times. More than half the 2,000 pre-war clergy in the Warhteland had been imprisoned, deported, or expelled, 700 priests incarcerated 400 nuns interned. In Poznan:

  • 5 priests shot
  • 27 priests in harsh concentration camps
  • 190 priests in prison or other concentration camps
  • 11 priests serious ill from ill-treatment
  • 122 parishes without priests

In Chelmno, only 7 of 650 priests were allowed to stay. Over 640 were either killed, imprisoned or put in concentration camps. Three polish bishops died in concentration camps. All Catholic clubs, organizations, were dissolved, all cultural, charitable and social organizations abolished, no longer a Catholic press or bookstore.

Mere words against these persecutions had no effect, they just caused greater ill treatment. The lesson was that strong words from the pulpit meant only more suffering for those in need of help. Whenever protests were made, treatment of prisoners worsened immediately. Robert Kempner, the American who served as deputy chief of the Nuremberg war-crimes tribunal, wrote:

"All the arguments and writings eventually used by the Catholic Church against Hitler only provoked suicide; the execution of Jews was followed by that of Catholic priests."

The Pope's involvement in the plot to overthrow Hitler

The German resistance was planning a coup to oust Hitler. There was only one leader of a neutral government who was trusted by the German resistance: Pope Pious XII. The protestant leaders planning a coup, Colonel Hans Oster, General Ludwig Beck, and Major Dohnanyi, recruited Dr. Josef Mueller, leading lawyer and Catholic to travel to the Vatican to broker a peace agreement between Britain and anti Nazi Germans. The Pope accepted and news of it helped build the resistance in Germany. Oster and Dohnanyi were members of German intelligence, and inducted Mueller into the organization to justify the frequent trips to Rome. Mueller then set up a chain of communication through Robert Leiber, long time private secretary and confidant to Pius XII, in order to avoid suspicion. The Pope relayed messages between Mueller and British Minister to the Holy See. Mueller also brought messages to Pius from sources inside Germany concerning military plans and movements. Pius forwarded these warnings to the threatened governments. "Never in all history had a Pope engaged so delicately in a conspiracy to overthrow a tyrant by force."

The Pope passed on other information to the British, but unfortunately, the allies were wary of this type of information, because they thought it could have been planted by Nazi's to fool the Brit's into bad strategy. Unfortunately the information was credible and the German resistance did not get backing. The Germans threatened reprisals if broadcasts like this continue.


Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione received a request from Chief Rabbi of Palestine in the Spring of 1940 to intercede on behalf of Lithuanian Jews about to be deported to Germany. In 1940 Pius asked members of the clergy, on Vatican letterhead, to do whatever they could on behalf of interned Jews.

When Mussolini learned of warnings and telegrams of sympathy to the Queen of the Netherlands, the King of Belgium, and the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, he took them as a personal affront and had his ambassador to the Vatican file an official protest, charging that Pius XII had taken sides against Italy's ally Germany. Mussolini's foreign minister claimed that Pius XII was "ready to let himself be deported to a concentration camp, rather than do anything against his conscience."

On March 11, 1940, The Pope had a personal meeting with German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim Ribbentrop, who was visiting Rome. During that meeting, The German Foreign Minister suggested to the Pope an overall settlement between the Vatican and the Reich government in exchange for the Pope instructing the German Bishops to refrain from political criticism of the German government, but no agreement was reached. The Vatican diplomatic record of the meeting describes what transpired as follows:

He (Ribbentrop) answered that at the bottom it is a question of a revolution and that compared with other revolutions the National Socialist Revolution has not caused grave harm to the churches. To which the Pope replied that in reality there had been many injuries - and he continued to point out examples. Ribbentrop underlined that the State spends a great deal for the clergy and the Church. The Pope replied that a great deal has been taken away from the Church, houses, institutions of education - kicking out the legitimate owners malo modo in a few hours. The Holy Father insisted particularly on the schools.


In September 1941 Pius objected to a Slovakian Jewish Code, which, unlike the earlier Vichy codes, prohibited intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide tells how Pius asked Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, Nuncio to Germany, to try to talk directly with Hitler about the persecution of Jews. After delays, Orsenigo is summoned to Berchtesgaden where Hitler receives him. The meeting observes the diplomatic amenities until Orsenigo brings up "the Jewish question." Hitler immediately turns his back, grabs a glass from the table and smashes it on the floor. From Hitler’s reaction, the Pope was convinced that public pronouncements would have sealed the fate of many more Jews. Indeed, after this incident, Hitler, who often raged against the Pope to his henchmen for protecting Jews, conceived a plot—fortunately never realized--to kidnap Pius XII from the Vatican to Germany.


In June 1942 Pius personally protested against the mass deportations of Jews from France, ordering the papal nuncio to protest to Pétain against "the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews".

The Slovakian charge d'affaires, told Pius that Slovakian Jews were being sent to concentration camps.The Vatican protested to the Slovak government that it "deplore(s) these... measures which gravely hurt the natural human rights of persons, merely because of their race."

Pius told a Jesuit visitor, “the Communist danger does exist, but at this time the Nazi danger is more serious. They want to destroy the Church and crush it like a toad.”

Hitler's private secretary, Martin Bormann, said:

All Polish [Catholic] intelligentsia must be exterminated. This sounds cruel, but such is the law of life ...[Polish priests] will preach what we want them to preach. If any priest acts differently, we will make short work of him. The task of the priest is to keep the Poles quiet, stupid and dull-witted.

Thousands of polish priests were sent to concentration camps, 2,500 died there. The primate of Poland was exiled and was forbidden to return. The German Ambassador said he was an enemy of the state. The Priester-Block (priests barracks) in the Dachau concentration camp lists 2,600 Roman Catholic priests.

August 6, New York Times headline: "Pope is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for Removal from France."

There are more protests by Dutch bishops than anywhere else in Western Europe, yet a larger percentage of Jews in Holland are lost than anywhere else in the West. Some 100,000, or 80% of the entire Jewish population in the country, were killed by the Nazis.

August 27, New York Times: "Vichy Seizes Jews: Pope Pius [objections] Ignored."

Developments in France, Belgium and Holland produce a massive and scornful counter action from Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry. Ten million copies of a pamphlet attacking "the present pro-Jewish Pope," whose actions have caused "a lack of confidence in him in the Catholic world," were published and distributed by the Nazi Propaganda Minister.

October 11, Times of London editorial reports: "A study of the words which Pope Pius XII has addressed since his accession leaves no room for doubt. He condemns the worship of force and its concrete manifestation in the suppression of national liberties and the persecution of the Jewish race."

In the 1942 Christmas address the Pope said that mankind owed this vow to all victims of the war, including:

“the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.”

In making this statement and others during the war, Pius used the Latin word “stirps,” which means race, but which had been used throughout Europe for centuries as an explicit reference to Jews. The New York Times editorial (December 25, 1942) was specific:

"The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas...He is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all."

The Pope’s Christmas message was also interpreted in the Gestapo report:

"in a manner never known before...the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order [Nazism]. It is true, the Pope does not refer to the National Socialists in Germany by name, but his speech is one long attack on everything we stand for. …Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews."


When 60,000 German soldiers and the Gestapo occupied Rome, thousands of Jews were hiding in churches, convents, rectories, the Vatican and the papal summer residence.

On February 19, Vatican Radio condemns deportations and forced labor, saying "the curse of God" will fall on those who do these things to human beings.

Pius XII also authorized Vatican Radio to publicly condemn Nazi atrocities--which it did, often quite explicitly, citing Jews by name. Despite ongoing Nazi reprisals, Vatican Radio continued to broadcast defiant words like this, reported in the New York Times on June 27, 1943: "He who makes a distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God's commands."

In a 1943 cover story, Time declared,

"No matter what critics might say, it is scarcely deniable that the Church Apostolic through the encyclicals and other papal pronouncements, has been fighting against totalitarianism more knowingly, devoutly and authoritatively, and for a longer time, than any other organized power. . . . Moreover, it insists on the dignity of the individual whom God created, in his own image, and for a decade has vigorously protested against the cruel persecution of the Jews as a violation of God's Tabernacle."

About 200 convents hid more than 1,500 Jewish children, mainly in Warsaw and the surrounding area. This was especially difficult, because Polish nuns in German-occupied areas were often persecuted and forced into hiding themselves. (In a small town near Mir, Poland, the Nazis executed 12 nuns in one day for suspicion of harboring Jews.) Nuns who lived in Soviet-occupied areas did not have it much better. They were sent to work for the Soviets, in areas as far away as Siberia. As such, the courage of the priests and nuns who provided shelter to Jewish people was truly admirable.

On 26 September 1943, following the German occupation of northern Italy, Nazi officials gave Jewish leaders in Rome 36 hours to produce 50 kilograms of gold (or the equivalent) threatening to take 300 hostages. Then Chief Rabbi of Rome Israel Zolli recounts in his memoir that he was selected to go to the Vatican and seek help. The Vatican offered to loan 15 kilos, but the offer proved unnecessary when the Jews received an extension.

June 2, 1943, Pope addresses the College of Cardinals: "our soul reacts with particular emotion and pressing concern to the prayers of those who turn to us with anxious eyes of pleading, in travail because of their nationality or their race, before greater catastrophes and ever more acute and serious sorrows, and destined without any fault of their own, to exterminating harassments." He regularly uses the Latin word for race, stirps, a term commonly used to refer to those of Jewish descent. L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio, as usual, give full coverage to the talk. German and Italian newspapers report the talk but omit the Pope's reference to race.

June, 1943: Vatican Radio in a broadcast to France: "He who distinguishes between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God's command."

On June 21 it broadcasts to Germany on the rights of Jews under natural law. A few days later it broadcasts to Germany a defense of Yugoslav Jews: "Every man bears the stamp of God."

October 16. The Gestapo seizes 1007 Jews in Rome. Pius vigorously protests to German authorities. The Germans refuse to release those already seized, but stop additional mass round-ups. Approximately eighty-five percent of Roman Jews escape the Nazis, many finding refuge in Church buildings Pius had ordered opened to shelter them.

October 17, New York Times headline: "Pope Said to Help in Ransoming Jews."

December 4, New York Times headline: "Vatican Scores Germans: Denounces Decision to Intern and Strip All Jews in Italy."

Soon afterward, when deportations from Italy were imminent, 477 Jews were hidden in the Vatican itself and another 4,238 were protected in Roman monasteries and convents. Eighty percent of Roman Jews were saved from deportation.


The Kaltenbrunner Report to Adolf Hitler dated November 29, 1944 on the background of the July 20, 1944 Plot to assassinate Hitler, states that the Pope was a conspirator, specifically naming Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, as being a party in the attempt to overthrow Hitler.

President Roosevelt wrote on August 3, 1944, to Myron C. Taylor, his personal representative at the Vatican; “I should like you to take the occasion to express to His Holiness my deeply-felt appreciation of the frequent action which the Holy See has taken on its own initiative in its generous and merciful efforts to render assistance to the victims of racial and religious persecutions.”

In March 1944, through the papal nuncio in Budapest, Angelo Rotta, the Pope complained to the Hungarian government about its treatment of the Jews. The nuncio issued at least 15,000 protection letters to Hungarian Jews and providing them with baptismal certificates. As the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, he vehemently protested several times to the Hungarian Governments against the Jewish Deportations. He retired from diplomacy in 1957 and was recognized as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1997.

The Pope also ordered Rotta and other papal legates to hide and shelter Jews. These protests, along with others from the King of Sweden, the International Red Cross, the United States, and Britain led to the cessation of deportations on 8 July 1944. Also in 1944, Pius appealed to 13 Latin American governments to accept "emergency passports", although it also took the intervention of the U.S. State Department for those countries to honor the documents.

on June 25, 1944, Pius XII telegraphed the following protest message to Admiral Horthy, the pro-Nazi ruler of Hungary in which he spoke of the sufferings endured by hundreds of thousands:

“on account of their national or racial origin by a great number of unfortunate people belonging to this noble and chivalrous nation. ... We appeal to your noble feelings, in the full trust that Your Serene Highness will do everything in your power to save many unfortunate people from further pain and sorrow.”

1944 June 25, Pope sends open telegram to leader of Hungary pleading with him not to allow deportation of Jews.

July 21, the World Jewish Congress writes to the Pope "gratefully conscious" of his "aid on behalf of sorely afflicted and menaced Jews in Hungary, which have been followed by offer of the Regent to secure release of certain categories of Jews particularly children. His Holiness' efforts bring us new hope at the eleventh hour of saving from death the surviving remnants of decimated European Jewry."

The situation in Slovakia is similar to that in Hungary but in Slovakia the puppet ruler, Tiso, presents an added pain to the Pope. Tiso had been a priest in good standing. The Pope has this message sent to the Vatican's representative in Slovakia: "Go at once to President Tiso and, informing him of the profound distress of His Holiness for the sufferings to which so many persons are subjected against the laws of humanity and justice— because of their nationality or race. Let him know also that these injustices committed under his Government damage the prestige of his country and that the adversary exploits them to discredit the clergy and the Church in the whole world."

August. Worried about Jewish captives in the hands of Germans in Northern Italy the Pope speaks: "For centuries they have been most unjustly treated and despised. It is time they were treated with justice and humanity. God wills it and the Church wills it. St. Paul tells us that the Jews are our brothers. Instead of being treated as strangers they should be welcomed as friends."

September 1944. Even as total destruction is engulfing the Third Reich, fanatical Nazis continue to teach their children hatred of Christianity. On September 12, in Munich Gerda Bormann writes to her husband in Berlin—he is now probably the second most powerful Nazi in Germany— about her evening conversation with her children: "Through Charlemagne Christianity got a foothold in our regions. (Ten minutes ago another alert sounded in Munich.) I explained all this to Eike and Gertrud. Let's hope they grasped it."


The Jewish Community publicly acknowledged the wisdom of Pope Pius XII’s diplomacy. In September 1945, Dr. Joseph Nathan—who represented the Hebrew Commission—stated "Above all, we acknowledge the Supreme Pontiff and the religious men and women who, executing the directives of the Holy Father, recognized the persecuted as their brothers and, with great abnegation, hastened to help them, disregarding the terrible dangers to which they were exposed."

March 19. Pius declares the unspeakable carnage of the war is from "the spirit of evil which sets itself in opposition to the Spirit of God. For those who have allowed themselves to be seduced by the advocates of violence, there is but one road to salvation: to repudiate immediately and forever the idolatry of absolute nationalism, pride of origin, race and blood."

May 9, following the suicide of Hitler and the surrender of Germany, the Pope offers a short meditation: "Kneeling in spirit before the graves and rivers red with blood where lie those who fell fighting, and the victims of indiscriminate murder, starvation, or deprivation—we remember them in our prayers."

1946 August 3 In speaking with a delegation from the Supreme Council of the Arab People of Palestine desiring his support in their struggle with Jews, the Holy Father said: "It is superfluous for me to tell you that we disapprove of all recourse to force and violence, from wheresoever it comes, just as we condemned on various occasions in the past that fanatical anti-Semitism inflicted on the Hebrew people."

Praise of the Pope after the war

In 1955, when Italy celebrated the tenth anniversary of its liberation, Italian Jewry proclaimed April 17 as “The Day of Gratitude.” That year, thousands of Jewish people made a pilgrimage to the Vatican to express appreciation for the Pope’s wartime solicitudes. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra even gave a special performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in the Papal Consistory Hall as an expression of gratitude for the Catholic Church’s assistance in defying the Nazis. (According to the Jerusalem Post of May 29, 1955, “Conductor Paul Klecki had requested that the Orchestra on its first visit to Italy play for the Pope as a gesture of gratitude for the help his church had given to all those persecuted by Nazi Fascism.”) Before the celebration, a delegation approached Msgr. Montini, the director of Vatican rescue services who later became Pope Paul VI, to determine whether he would accept an award for his work on behalf of Jews during the war. He was extremely gratified and visibly touched by their words, but he declined the honor: “All I did was my duty,” he said. “And besides I only acted upon orders from the Holy Father. Nobody deserves a medal for that.

Why did Pacelli as Secretary of State under Pius XI, sign an agreement – a “concordat” – with the Nazis in 1933?

The state concordats were necessary because the German federalist Weimar constitution gave the German states authority in the area of education and culture and thus diminished the authority of the churches in these areas; this diminution of church authority was a primary concern of the Vatican. As Bavarian Nuncio, Pacelli negotiated successfully with the Bavarian authorities in 1925 and with Austria in 1933. A total of 16 concordats and treaties with European states had been concluded in the ten year period 1922–1932.

The concordat was signed, by Pacelli for the Vatican and von Papen for Germany, on 20 July and ratified on 10 September 1933. Between 1933 and 1939, Pacelli issued 55 protests of violations of the Reichskonkordat. The first formal Catholic protests under the concordat concerned the Nazi government’s call for a boycott of Jewish businesses. Numerous protests would follow over treatment of both the Jews and the direct persecution of the Church in Nazi Germany. The German foreign minister would report that his desk was stuffed with protests from Rome, protests rarely passed on to Nazi leadership.

The Concordat provided that Jews who had converted to Christianity would not be subject to persecution in Germany as Jews. This provision enabled local priests to save tens of thousands of Jews from deportation by issuing fake Baptism certificates.

Hugh G. Dalin Regnery, a Jewish historian wrote, The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis. Concerning the much-maligned Concordat, signed between Germany and the Church in July 1933, Dalin argues persuasively that it was a necessary defense mechanism against a ruthless totalitarian state. True, Hitler began violating it almost immediately, but had it not been signed, the situation would have been even worse. As Zsolt Aradi, who covered Pius XI's pontificate and wrote one of the best accounts of it, commented:

"Actually, the little freedom that the Concordat left for the clergy and hierarchy was widely used to save as many persecuted Jews as could be saved." Critics of the Concordat have never proposed a viable alternative.

At the same time, however, the Vatican was forced to deal with the reality of Hitler’s rise to power. In June 1933 Hitler had signed a peace agreement with the western powers, including France and Great Britain, called the Four-Power Pact. At the same time Hitler expressed a willingness to negotiate a statewide concordat with Rome. The concordat was concluded a month later. In a country where Protestantism dominated, the Catholic Church was finally placed on a legal equal footing with the Protestant churches.

Concordats were made with countries, not particular regimes, Pacelli stated. Pope Pius XI would explain that it was concluded only to spare persecution that would take place immediately if there was no such agreement.

In newly released archives, Dalin establishes that Pacelli was something of a prophet in the 1920s and '30s, warning everyone who would listen about the dangers of Hitler. Pacelli (later Pious XII) was dismayed with the Nazi assumption of power and by August of 1933 he expressed to the British representative to the Holy See his disgust with “their persecution of the Jews, their proceedings against political opponents, the reign of terror to which the whole nation was subjected.” When it was stated that Germany now had a strong leader to deal with the communists, Archbishop Pacelli responded that the Nazis were infinitely worse.

After a 1937 meeting with Cardinal Pacelli, the American consul A.W. Klieforth wrote to the State Department that Pacelli "regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person." According to Klieforth, he "did not believe Hitler capable of moderation," in spite of appearances, and that Pacelli "opposed unalterably every compromise with National Socialism."

Hitler's Pope - by John Cornwell

Hitlerspope.jpgIn 1999, Viking press marketed "Hitler's Pope" as having been written by a practicing Catholic who started out to defend Pius XII. Earlier accounts of Cornwell paint a very different picture. According to a 1989 report in the Washington Post, Cornwell, was once a seminarian at the English College in Rome and knows the Vatican terrain but he long since left the seminary and the Catholic faith and thus writes with that astringent, cool, jaundiced view of the Vatican that only ex-Catholics familiar with Rome seem to have mastered. He described himself as a lapsed Catholic for over 20 years. In his book, The hiding Places of God (1993) he wrote of his days in the seminary

"I took delight in attempting to undermine the beliefs of my fellow seminarians with what I regarded as clever arguments; I quarreled with the lecturer in class and flagrantly ignored the rules of the house".

He declared that:

"Human beings are "morally, psychologically and materially better off without a belief in God."

He also said that he had lost his "belief in the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist." Reviews of that book called Cornwell an agnostic and former Catholic.

Ronald Rychlak wrote a carefully researched rebuttal, which exposed Cornwell's manipulation of the photograph on the front cover of the American edition of the book. Cornwell's incorrectly dated the photo as having been taken in March 1939, the month that Pacelli was made Pope. It appears that the manipulation of the photograph and error in the date had been performed deliberately in order to give the impression that Pius had just visited Hitler when, in fact, the photo had been taken 12 years earlier, in 1927, as Pacelli (Later Pius XII) was leaving a reception held for German President Paul von Hindenburg. As a cardinal in Germany this was a regular part of his position. There was no Nazi Party then. The image is cropped so that the shoulder badges of the soldier in the front of the photo are not seen, because they were not Nazi uniforms. Pacelli wasn't even Pope when that picture was taken. Another fact that is little known: even though Pacelli was a German Cardinal, Pacelli never met Hitler:

Pacelli (later Pius XII) never met with Hitler, neither before or after he was made Pope.

Cornwell's scholarship has been criticized. For example, Kenneth L. Woodward stated in his review in Newsweek that "errors of fact and ignorance of context appear on almost every page." Five years after the publication of Hitler's Pope, Cornwell stated: "I would now argue, in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler's Pope, that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by Germany".

This attack on Pius XII is actually an internal battle waged by liberal Catholics against the Magisterium

The shrillest voices against the Pope Pius XII are not the Jewish people, but rather this is primarily a battle within the Catholic Church waged by a liberal crowd who want to undermine the authority of the Papal office. This is the same crowd that wants to liberalize the Church's position of same sex relations, gay marriage, contraception, abortion, sex before marriage and a long list of other things which have practically destroyed the Anglican Church, the United Church, the Methodist Church, and Lutheran Churches. These people seeking a reform of Catholicism to be an "anything goes" type of place know that the Papal office is the main thing standing between them and a morally liberal Church. That's why they are going after Benedict XVI these days to rewrite history to implicate him in the abuse scandals.

Pope Pius was directly responsible for saving 800,000 Jews, and that is more than Oscar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.

Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant reform, was called a "hero of the German people" by Hitler. Luther tried to convert Jews but when he failed he developed strong anti-Semitic feelings. He wrote a book entitled "On the Jews and Their Lies", which was a favorite of the Nazis. In it he expressed his desire to rid Germany of its Jews, take their wealth, and he further instructed that the synagogues or schools be set on fire, that their houses be broken up, destroyed and they be put under a roof or stable like the gypsies.

On the Church and the Holocaust

Hungarian Jews and the Papacy: The former chief rabbi of Rome during the German occupation, Emilio Zolli, concluded his firsthand account of wartime events thus:

    "Volumes could be written on the multiform works of Pius XII, and the countless priests, religious and laity who stood with him throughout the world during the war." "No hero," he said, "in all of history was more militant, more fought against, none more heroic, than Pius XII in pursuing the works of true charity . . . and thus on behalf of all the suffering children of God."

Zolli was so moved by Pius XII’s work that he became a Catholic after the war and took the Pope’s name (Before the Dawn). Lapide acknowledged in his book that the Church

    "in an endless flood of sermons, allocutions, pastoral letters and encyclicals was a clear and unrelenting foe to all forms of racism at the time, and everyone knew it—Jews, Poles, Russians and most ominously the Nazi secret police." Their files mention recalcitrant Catholic clergy in this regard more than any other group.

Leonard Bernstein, on learning of Pope Pius XII’s death while conducting his orchestra in New York’s Carnegie Hall, tapped his baton for a moment of silence to pay tribute to the Pope who had saved the lives of so many people without distinction of race, nationality, or religion.

I find it surprising that the same press that lambastes Israel every time it tries to defend itself in modern history, is the same press that is saying Pius XII is anti Semitic. Could it be that there is another agenda operating here?

What are we doing about the modern Holocaust?

One of the big questions that keeps coming into my mind is this: Why is it that almost every group that condemns the "inaction" of Pope Pius XII, is doing practically nothing to speak out for the unborn in our modern day Holocaust? Evangelicals who rightly try to defend Israel, are often inactive in protecting the unborn. They say "we don't want to enter into controversy!", or "we don't want to be offensive" or "oh, Prolife, that's a Catholic cause." These are people who believe in the sanctity of life. My challenge to those who accuse Pious XII on inaction, is to roll up their sleeves and do something practical to protect the unborn.

abortion 11 weeks

Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’

Vatican statement on the Holocaust addresses this issue on March 16, 1998:

Below is the text of the Vatican statement on this issue:

But it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. Did anti-Jewish sentiment among Christians make them less sensitive, or even indifferent, to the persecutions launched against the Jews by National Socialism when it reached power?

Any response to this question must take into account that we are dealing with the history of people’s attitudes and ways of thinking, subject to multiple influences. Moreover, many people were altogether unaware of the “final solution” that was being put into effect against a whole people; others were afraid for themselves and those near to them; and still others were moved by envy. A response would need to be given case by case. To do this, however, it is necessary to know what precisely motivated people in a particular situation.

At first, the leaders of the Third Reich sought to expel the Jews. Unfortunately, the governments of some Western countries of Christian tradition, including some in North and South America, were more than hesitant to open their borders to persecuted Jews. Although they could not foresee how far the Nazi hierarchs would go in their criminal intentions, the leaders of these nations were aware of the hardships and dangers to which Jews living in the territories of the Third Reich were exposed. The closing of borders to Jewish emigration in those circumstances, whether due to anti-Jewish hostility or suspicion, political cowardice or shortsightedness, lays a heavy burden of conscience on the authorities in question.

In the lands where the Nazis undertook mass deportations, the brutality which surrounded these forced movements of helpless people should have led to suspect the worst. Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews?

Many did, but others did not. Those who did help to save Jewish lives as much as was in their power, even to the point of placing their own lives in danger, must not be forgotten…Nevertheless, as Pope John Paul II has recognized, alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers. We cannot know how many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbors and yet were not strong enough to raise their voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence.

We deeply regret the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the church…(we) appeal to our Catholic brothers and sisters to renew the awareness of the Hebrew roots of their faith. We ask them to keep in mind that Jesus was a descendant of Hugh; that the Virgin Mary and the Apostles belonged to the Jewish people; that the Church draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree on to which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the gentiles (cf. Rom 11: 17024); that the Jews are our dearly beloved brothers, indeed in a certain sense they are “our elder brothers…”

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This article borrows from the work of Ronald Rychlak, "Hitler, the War, and the Pope" and an article by Sister Margherita Marchione, PhD, "The Jewish Community Should Rethink its Attitude Toward Pius XII". Wikipedia article on Pius XII.