Pius XII Saved More Jews Than Schindler
Interview with Historian Rabbi David Dalin of New York
You have labeled historians who have criticized Pope Pius XII as
Today there is a new generation of journalists and experts determined
to discredit the documented efforts of Pius XII to save the
Jews during the Holocaust. This generation is inspired by Rolf
Hochhuth's play "The Vicar," which has no historical value, but levels
controversial accusations against this Pope. However, Eugenio Pacelli's
detractors ignore or neglect Pinchas Lapide's enlightening study.
Dalin's book, The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII and
His Secret War Against Nazi Germany, is available on
Amazon. Other vendors can be viewed on
[Lapide] was consul general of Israel in Milan and met with many
Italian Jews who survived the Holocaust. In his work, Lapide documents how
Pius XII worked for the salvation of at least 700,000 from the hands of
the Nazis. However, according to another estimate, this figure rises to
Why, then, has there been this change in appreciation?
I call today's critics revisionists because they reverse the judgement
of history, namely, the recognition given to Pius XII by his
contemporaries, among whom is Nobel Prize [winner] Albert Einstein, Chief
Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Israel, Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe
Sharett; and, in Italy, people like Raffaele Cantoni, who at the time was
president of the Italian Union of Jewish Communities. But many articles
published at different times in Boston's Jewish Advocate, The Times of
London, and The New York Times can also be perused.
What did Pope Pacelli do for the Jews?
We have much documentation, which shows that in no way did he remain
silent. What is more, he spoke out loudly against Hitler and almost"
everyone saw him as an opponent of the Nazi regime. During the German
occupation of Rome, Pius XII secretly instructed the Catholic clergy to
use all means to save as many human lives as possible
In this way, he saved thousands of Italian Jews from
deportation. While 80% of European Jews died in those years, 80% of
Italian Jews were saved. In Rome alone, 155 convents and monasteries gave
refuge to some 5,000 Jews. At any given moment, at least 3,000 were saved
in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, being freed from deportation to
German concentration camps.
For nine months, 60 Jews lived with the Jesuits at the Pontifical
Gregorian University, and many others were hidden in the basement of the
Biblical Institute. Following Pius XII's instructions, risking their own
lives, many priests and monks made possible the salvation of hundreds of
But the Pope never publicly denounced the anti-Semitic laws and
persecution of the Jews.
His silence was an effective strategy directed to protecting the
greatest possible number of Jews from deportation. An explicit and severe
denunciation of the Nazis by the Pope would have been an invitation to
reprisals, and would have worsened attitudes toward Jews throughout
Of course one can ask: What could be worse than the extermination of 6
million Jews? The answer is simple and terribly honest: the killing of
hundreds of thousands of other Jews. The revisionist critics of Pius XII
know that both Jewish leaders as well as Catholic bishops, who came from
occupied countries, advised Pacelli not to protest publicly against the
atrocities committed by the Nazis.
We have evidence that, when the bishop of Munster wished to pronounce
himself against the persecution of the Jews in Germany, the leaders of the
Jewish communities of his diocese begged him not to do so, as it would
have caused a harsher repression against them.
Don't you think that the excommunication of Nazis would have helped?
Yes, I would like to think so and deep down I think that at least there
should have been an attempt to pronounce a papal excommunication. However,
despite these sentiments, the documents suggest that the excommunication
of Hitler would have been a merely symbolic gesture.
Would it not have been better than silence?
On the contrary. History teaches that a formal excommunication could
have achieved the opposite result. Father Luigi Sturzo and the former
chief rabbi of Denmark, for example, were specifically afraid of this. The
Nazis themselves interpreted Pius XII's Christmas 1942 address as a clear
condemnation of their regime and a demand in favour of Europe's Jews. The
anger among the Nazis could have elicited catastrophic reactions for the
security and fortune of the papacy itself in the years following the War.
A papal condemnation of the Nazis implied the well-founded and diffused
suspicion at the time that Hitler would have sought vengeance in the
person of the Pope himself, by attacking the Vatican. Rudolph Rahn, the
Nazi ambassador in Rome, confirmed the existence of these plans, which he
himself helped to forestall.
In your writings, you propose a new historiography written by Jews on
the "Pius XII case". What do you mean?
I think the time has arrived on the Jewish side to get to work on a new
reconstruction of the relation between Pius XII and the Holocaust. This
reconstruction, closer to the facts, namely, of what Pius XII really did
for the Jews, would arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions to the
gratuitous ones of John Cornwell's book, "Hitler's Pope".
Pius XII was not Hitler's Pope, but the greatest defender that we Jews
have ever had, and precisely at the time when we needed it.
This new work of historiography should be based in the judgement that
his contemporaries made of the efforts, successes and failures of Pius
XII, as well as of the way in which the Jews who survived the Holocaust
evaluated (or revaluated) his life and influence in the succeeding
Pope Pacelli was righteous among the nations, who must be recognized
for having protected and saved hundreds of thousands of Jews. It is
difficult to imagine that so many world Jewish leaders, in such different
continents, could have been mistaken or confused when it came to praising
the Pope's conduct during the War. Their gratitude to Pius XII lasted a
long time, and it was genuine and pro-found.
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