On Monday, March 4, Pope Francis announced that next year the Vatican will make public its archives on the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Hopefully this will finally put to rest the long-standing myth of “Hitler’s Pope.” The substance of the myth is that Pius XII, who led the Church during the difficult years of the Second World War, was at the very least indifferent to the plight of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and at worst a full-blown Nazi collaborator — both of which are lies.
The highly-respected Jewish historian, Pinchas Lapide, in a book he wrote back in 1967, credited Pius XII with saving the lives of approximately 800,000 Jews — not the typical conduct of a Nazi collaborator. And Lapide was not alone in his praise of the pontiff. Most prominent Jews both during and after the war extolled Pius and the Catholic Church for the many efforts that were made by Catholics — with the pope’s guidance and approval — to shield Jewish men, women and children from Nazi oppression. Among those who expressed their praise and gratitude were the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, the president of the American Jewish Congress, the chief rabbi of Rome (who converted to Catholicism after the war and took Pius’ baptismal name —Eugenio — as his own) and Albert Einstein.
When Pius died in 1958, Golda Meir, who would later become prime minister of Israel, expressed the sentiments of the majority of Jews (and non-Jews) at the time: “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 the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”
A great servant of peace who will hopefully be declared a saint in the near future.