Pius XII and the Holocaust

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Pius XII has often been portrayed as the Pope who kept silent during the Holocaust. There has been much controversy and debate surrounding this issue in the years following Pius’s death. Many historians today claim Pius did not do nearly enough to help the Jews escape the Nazis’ Final Solution. Furthermore, these historians claim Pius XII knew about Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe and still kept silent. In contrast, other historians believe Pius XII did an effective job of helping the Jews of Europe escape. These historians believe Pius was so efficient that he should be remembered not only as a Pope but as the “Pope of Peace.” These defenders of Pius claim that although he may have known about Hitler’s plans, he responded in such a way, that it enabled him to save 800,000 of the 2 million Jews living in Europe before the war. Other historians provide a much more neutral approach to the debate. These historians believe that Pius neither took an active part in saving the Jews nor sat on the sidelines and watched as millions of Jews were persecuted. Although at the center of much debate and controversy, Pius XII ultimately knew about the Holocaust and did what he needed to do in order to save the Jews of Europe. Although at the center of much controversy for his actions during the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII has attracted more critics than defenders in the decades following the Second World War. Many of these critics believe that Pius knew about Hitler’s plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe and failed to act accordingly to save them from that fate. Furthermore, these critics argue that Pius kept silent during the war to protect himself and the Vatican from defamation by critics of the war. In the play, The Deputy (1963), Rolf Hochhuth portrays Pius XII as having failed to take action or speak out against the Holocaust. Hochhuth also casts a penetrating eye on the role that supposed moral leaders must play in times of great humanitarian crises. For much of the war, Pius maintained a public front of indifference and remained silent while German atrocities were committed against the Jews of Europe. He refused pleas for neutrality, while making statements condemning injustices in general. “Although the Pope is said to have been importuned from various quarters, he has not allowed himself to be carried away into making any demonstrative statements against the deportation of the Jews. Although he must expect our enemies to resent this attitude on his part, he has nevertheless done all he could, in this delicate question as other matters, not to prejudice relationships with the German government.” Privately, he sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews. Hochhuth also sets forth in his play that although Pius repeatedly “verbally reiterated his commitment to help the Jews, states that he must stay silent because admaioram mala vitanda (to avoid greater evil).” Pius continually articulated that he needed to keep silent because of his fear of becoming involved with the Soviets who wanted to destroy the Catholic Church. In his play, Hochhuth argues that because of this threat, Pius kept stood on the sidelines as and watched as atrocities were committed against the Jews, when he had the perfect opportunity to take action against Hitler. In response to Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy, many critics and supporters of Pius contend that Pius did in fact rescue up to 800,000 Jews of Europe from Hitler and the Nazis. These critics also dispute the fact that Pius was portrayed as the one who was “criminally responsible for the death of countless Jews.” Many of the critics also illustrate that although Pius may have silently condemned the Holocaust, he was not inactive. Pius had to work in secret to help rescue the Jews because if he had done so publicly, Hitler and the Nazis may very well have reacted with more violence and force than they had originally intended. It...
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