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Book ReviewsThe Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis.

In early May 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints met and recommended to Pope Benedict XVI that he should declare Pope Pius XII “venerable”, a step in the canonization process. 

This recommendation had been done after much research and investigation into the life of Pope Pius XII who was Pope from 1939 to 1958.  After this recommendation was announced, opponents of Pope Pius recommended that he wait more time until information in the Vatican Archives had been made available to the public so there could be more time for scholars to examine that material.  At first, this recommendation by Pius’ opponents sounded like a good idea, but these opponents would oppose Pius’ cause no matter what. 

Rabbi David G. Dalin wrote this book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, before the Vatican’s congregation met to demonstrate that Pope Pius should be canonized and that he should be declared a “righteous gentile.”  “Righteous gentile” is an honor given by the Yad Vashem Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum to non-Jews who helped save Jews from the Holocaust. 

Since the early 1960s Pope Pius’ memory has been slandered starting with the German play, The Deputy (1963), by former Hitler Youth member Rolf Hochhuth and has continued to this day with various books and articles.  Pope Pius has been vilified as “Hitler’s pope” by authors like John Cornwell (Hitler’s Pope, 1999), Garry Wills (Papal Sin, 2000), James Carroll (Constantine’s Sword, 2001), Daniel Goldhagen (A Moral Reckoning, 2002), Susan Zuccotti (Under His Vary Windows, 2000), and others.  He has been defended by authors like Ronald J. Rychlak (Hitler, the War and the Pope, 2000), Pierre Blet (Pius XII and the Second World War:  According to the Archives of the Vatican, 1999), Sr. Margherita Marchione (Consensus and Controversy 2002 and other books and articles), Ralph McInerny (Defamation of Pius XII, 2001), Justus George Lawler (Popes and Politics, 2002), Jose Sanchez (Pius XII and the Holocaust, 2002), Pinchas Lipide (Three Popes and the Jews, 1967), Jeno Levai (Hungarian Jewry and the Papacy,  1968), Sir Martin Gilbert (The Righteous, 2003),and others.  These authors are Catholics, Jews, of other denominations, or of no religion.

Rabbi Dalin examines most of the pro and con authors on Pope Pius and his actions during World War II.  He shows that many of Pope Pius’ detractors had many historical errors or just created false information in order to promote their agendas.  Dalin backs up his claims of the detractors’ errors by presenting sources and authors who know the history and sources. 

Many of Pius’ defenders show that he and the Church helped to save the lives of thousands of Jews.  Dalin gives various examples where Pope Pius sent orders to his nuncios (ambassadors) and other Church officials to save the Jews and others from the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. The Jewish author, Pinchas Lapide, says that Pius saved from 700,000 to 800,000 Jews from the Nazis.  Pope Pius opened all churches, convents, and monasteries in Rome and other areas of the world to the Jews and others.  In this way many were saved.

Dalin discusses what would have happened if Pope Pius had spoken out even more than what he had.  He shows that when the Pope spoke out many Jews and Catholics suffered for it.  The Nazis became enraged.  The prime example is Holland.  The Dutch bishops spoke out strongly against the Nazis and many more Jews and Jewish-Catholics were rounded up and sent to the death camps in Poland.

The Nazis were so enraged that they killed more Jews from Holland percentage-wise than from other countries.  Some Catholic and Jewish leaders urged the Pope not to speak out too much because their people would suffer for it.  There are several documented examples from the Nazis themselves that show they became enraged with Pope Pius.  When he spoke as he did several times against the killing of those of other races and nationalities they knew he was speaking to them.  They were angered by Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With Burning Anxiety) written in 1937 which Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII) help write.  This encyclical was written only in German and not in Latin which is traditionally done. 

Dalin gives examples of Pope Pius’ involvement in helping Jews outside of Rome and Italy.  He was involved in helping Jews in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and other places.  He provided funds and other resources to help Jews and others.  He also helped to hide escaped prisoners of war in the Vatican and other places.  For many of these actions and other reasons Hitler wanted to kidnap Pope Pius, but this plan never came to fruition since some generals thwarted Hitler’s plans.  This story is described in the book, A Special Mission by Dan Kurzman, published by Da Capo.

Dalin presents the names of many who praised Pope Pius during his life and at his death.  Some are Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel; Gold Meir, Moshe Sharett, prime ministers of Israel; Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Chief rabbi of Israel; Dr. Alexander Safran, the chief rabbi of Romania; and many others.  Pope Pius XII was not Hitler’s pope, he was a friend and protector of the Jewish people as the historical record shows.

Dalin reveals who really was Hitler’s cleric, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini.  Husseini was opposed to the Jews in word and deed.  He was opposed to more Jews coming to his country, Palestine.  He came to hate Jews so much that he killed them and encouraged others to do that too.

Husseini befriended Hitler because they both hated Jews and wanted to exterminate them.  Dalin shows that Husseini was active in Europe and the Middle East.  He escaped to the Middle East after the War and was protected by various Arab governments and groups.  Husseini spread his form of Islam throughout the Middle East.  Dalin says he influenced Yasser Arafat and the PLO and other Palestinian organizations.  Many Arab political parties took up Nazi ideology.  Dalin says that al-Qaeda and other “fundamentalist” Islamic terror groups have been influenced by Husseini, Hitler’s mufti.

Rabbi Dalin’s book is a very good presentation refuting those who detract the memory of Pope Pius XII and who use this also as a means to attack Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church.  He also presents the case that liberals are opposing conservatives in society by attacking conservative leaders like Pius and John Paul II. 

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This book is very thought provoking and presents the case that Pope Pius XII should be canonized and declared a “righteous gentile.”  This book is highly recommended to those interested in Pope Pius XII and the controversy surrounding his life during World War II.

Rabbi David G. Dalin is a professor of history and political science at Ave Maria University, Naples, Florida.  He is the author of American Jews and the Separatist Faith (1993), and co-author of The Pius Wars:  Responses to the critics of Pius XII (2004) (which was reviewed by this reviewer), The President of the United States and Jews (2000), Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience (2000), and other books and articles.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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