A BLACK LEGEND OF PIUS XII
A black legend of Pius XII is still going on. He is accused of keeping silent about Holocaust and even cooperation with Hitler. The first time the accusations had appeared was in 1963 (3 years after the pope’s death and 18 years after the end of the war). They were made by a drama writer Rolf Hochhuth in his book entitled: ‘A vicar’. Before that there was a completely different opinion, formulated by the prime minister of Israeli Golda Meir: ‘During ten years of the Nazis terrorism, in which our nation was experiencing terrible martyrdom, the voice of the pope sounded in words condemning oppressors’.
During the war Pius XII gave an order that all institutions governed by him must give the Jews help from death. He gave a shelter to a lot of Jews in the Vatican buildings, among the others, the great rabbi of Rome Eugenio Zoll, who said later that nobody had done more to save the Jews than the pope. In the capital city of Italy in 155 about 5 thousand Jewish fugitives were hiding, and over 3 thousand fugitives were hiding in the summer residence of the pope in Castel Gandolfo. Others found a shelter in papal universities – Gregorianum and Biblicum. In 1945 during a general audience a group of former prisoners of death camps thanked Pius XII for his attitude towards the Jews.
A few decades later there appeared a different opinion. Why? A lot is explained by a report of gen. Ion M. Pacepa, the former chief of the Romanian Securitate, who escaped to the West in 1978. He said that because of his steadfast anti-communist attitude, Pius was treated by the USSR authorities as one of the worst enemies. So, it was decided to carry out a de-informative action in order to question the authority of the pope. The General of KGB Iwan Agajanc initiatied an operation called ‘Seat-12’. A range of false materials on Pius XII were prepared, which were sent to western opinion-making centres. According to Pacepa, these materials were also sent to Hochhuth. The de-informative action won a success, which is proved by, among the others, popularity of such books as ‘Hitler’s Pope’ by John Cornwell, or ‘Papal sin’ by Garry Wills.
What is the most controversial, is the fact that Pius XII had never spoken publicly in defence of exterminated Jews. However, one must remember that he had not spoken publicly in defence of murdered Poles, mostly the Catholics, either. Why? It happened so because Polish bishops had asked him not to do it. Condemning the Germans by the pope – as they stated – would not bring any benefits, but would cause more repressions towards the Church and the Catholics.
Pius XII knew national socialists from the times when he was still a nuncio in Germany. He knew that open criticism can only irritate the Nazis Germans and provoke them for more persecutions. Therefore, instead of condemning publicly, he chose diplomacy and discreet help. Was he right? The example of Holland shows that he was. When the Netherland Episcopate announced a letter criticizing the policy of Hitler towards the Jews, the Germans murdered 40 people in revenge (Edyta Stein was killed in this way). One voice of protest cost so many human beings. So, the Pope chose keeping silent, not inaction.
Pius XII has also got Jewish supporters. An Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide stated that the actions of the pope had contributed to saving from 700 to 860 thousand Jews. He was also defended against false accusations by Joseph Lichten, Livia Rotkirchen, Jeno Levai, Martin ilbert and recently by Gary Krupp. Unfortunately, in the general awareness of the Jews there prevails a negative image of Pius II, which can be seen in the Museum Yad Vashem. Will KGB turn out victorious posthumously?