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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Choices of Pope Pius XII

Last week I put up a post on the choices of people in Germany and Western Europe during World War II. My post did not discuss the choices of Pope Pius XII.

During the war he chose not to issue public protests about Nazi actions against Europe’s Jews. Author Mark Riebling stated in the summer of 1942 the pope had written an article:

The pages contained the Vatican’s strongest protest yet against the persecution of Jewry. The pope planned to publish it in L’Osservatore that very evening. But Leiber urged His Holiness to remember the Dutch bishops’ pastoral letter. If it had cost the lives of 40,000 Jews, an even stronger protest, from even more prominent lips, could cost the lives of many times more. The pope would do better to keep a public silence and do whatever he could in secret. Pius handed the pages to Leiber, who thre them into the kitchen fireplace and watched them burn.
With that decision the pope became one of the millions of Europeans who chose to be silent about the Holocaust.

Among those who remained quiet with him were the leaders of the International Red Cross. Determined to maintain neutrality during the war they were silent on the Holocaust.

Red Cross visits to concentration camps were carefully managed by the Nazis and those conducting the examinations did not stray from the Nazi arrangements. They published reports of sanitized camps.

The Pope joined thousands across Europe who sought to protect and save Jews in private. Riebling states:

Over the same period (German occupation of Rome), 477 Jews had hidden in  Vatican City, and 4,238 received sanctuary in Roman monasteries and convents.

We look with admiration on the brave Berliners who kept 2,000 Jews known as “U-boats” alive through the war in the Nazi capital.

The pope did choose to become a part of the underground Resistance to the Nazis by working with the German military Resistance plotting against Hitler.

It remains striking to me that the Pope participated in conspiracies to kill Hitler. Should the leader of the Catholic Church be a part of the assassination of a Head of Government?

It means the Church is taking an active violent role in world politics.

Could Pope Pius XII have saved more Jewish lives had he publicly protested the genocidal actions of the Nazis towards the Jews of Europe?

I have come to doubt such actions would have had an impact. It was an ideological decision to embark on the Holocaust. The traditional methods of Anti-Semites in marginalizing Jewish people and seeking to exile them were inadequate for the Nazis. They were determined to render Europe Jew free.

They did not care if their persecution and execution of Jews damaged Germany’s economy and scientific research.

While eliminating Jews was the highest priority of the Nazis there was a public protest that saved Jewish lives. In 1942 the non-Jewish wives of Jewish men about to be deported to the camps in the East took to the streets of Berlin. The Nazis backed down and did not deport the husbands.

I believe it would have been different had the pope protested. The Nazis wanted to eradicate the Christian faith, especially the Catholic Church. I think public protests from Pius would have accelerated their efforts to destroy the Church.

While Nazis were reluctant to conduct reprisals against German women I do not think they would have hesitated with regard to the Church.

Most important the Pope had been unable to influence the Nazis in their actions in Poland against the Church. Three thousand Polish clergy and three million Christian Poles were killed.  When his efforts on behalf of Catholics were ignored I cannot see the Nazis reacting more positively to protests by him with regard to the Jews.

Popes, including Pius XII, had publicly protested against the persecutions conducted by Communist Russia to no avail.

Did the pope have a moral obligation to protest even if his words were futile is a different question? I am sure he thought about the choices he made every day for the rest of his life.


  1. I'm sure he did, too, Bill. Sometimes, the choice of what is the right thing to do is not as clear-cut as we might think. There are real consequences either way in such choices; and that's particularly true with a very public figure such as the Pope. Thanks for sharing the complexity of the situation.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The choices for the leader of a worldwide organization have challenges beyond those entities based in a country or a region.

  2. I've had more than one debate amongst fellow Catholics about this subject - what should or shouldn't have been said and done and various "what if..." scenarios explored...I've found my views changing over time - young Bernadette was much more unforgiving, older me realises the world is fueled by compromise and shades of grey (and I mean that in the old-fashioned sense, not the new "high class bondage" sense of Fifty Shades) - I think I'm with you in that it was unlikely to have made much of an impact on the Nazis even if the Pope had been more outspoken - but what impact it might have had on other Catholics - including Catholic world leaders and people of influence - is less easy to see from this distance. We can only speculate.

    It's interesting to me though that we generally assume that the Nazis were the worst possible thing that could have happened to the world at that time - I remember reading an alternate history some years ago in which someone was able to kill Hitler before he became an adult but that left the way clear for someone even worse to take over Germany and actually succeed in many of the areas that Hitler ultimately failed with.

    1. Bernadette: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. As a practising Catholic I see the pope's words are meaningful but I equally doubt protests by Pius would have inspired major Catholic action in WW II.

      Are we better off with ISIS in Iraq and Saddam Hussein gone?

  3. Indeed Bill. There are so many parts of the world where it seems people are trying to hurt "us" (i.e. a lose word to mean first-world western nations that have largely followed the US and/or Britain into conflict) with technology and training "we've" previously given to them when "we" were on their side.

  4. Bernadette: Thanks for the further comment. When who belongs to "We" includes those who are simply enemies of "Them" there is bound to regret of who was invited to be "We".

  5. I found your piece fascinating and thought-provoking, Bill, and Bernadette (and your exchange)summed up most of my thoughts. What an issue.

  6. Moira: Thanks for the comment. Leaders have far more challenging choices than I deal with in my life. I do appreciate Bernadette's thoughtful comments.

  7. What an issue! As someone with Jewish relatives who fled anti-Semitic pogroms in 1907 czarist Russia, I was brought up with a very strong code of ethics that everyone should have done everything to stop the Nazi carnage against the Jews, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavians and others.

    But especially the Jews. I think the Pope should have done his utmost to save people, including Jews, but to educate Catholics about moral obligations to people of other religions.

    My cousin's father's Jewish family in Poland was killed by Catholic Poles in a famous massacre at Jawabne. Education and the teaching of tolerance by the Pope and Polish priests might have prevented this.

    There is still enormous anti-Semitism in Poland and I wonder who is trying to end this, especially when the far right in Europe is growing.

    Yes, interesting that you raised German non-Jewish women demonstrating to save their Jewish husbands. That is portrayed in "Rosenstrasse," a film made by Margareta von Trotta. It's very good.

    Unfortunately, my understanding is that many non-Jewish men abandoned their Jewish wives and didn't fight for them. That is so sad on so many levels.

  8. To clarify, it was at a pogrom in 1941 called the Jedwabne pogrom where over 300 Jews were killed in Poland.