Volume > Issue > 'Righteous Among the Nations'

‘Righteous Among the Nations’


By Margherita Marchione | October 2007
Sr. Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., a Fulbright Scholar and Professor Emerita of Italian Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University, is a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini. She is the author of several books on Pope Pius XII, most recently, Did Pope Pius XII Help the Jews? (Paulist Press, 2007). Her autobiography, The Fighting Nun, was published by Cornwell Books in 2000.

Rabbi Alexander Safran passed away recently at age 95 in his home in Geneva, Switzerland. During World War II he was the Chief Rabbi of Bucharest, Romania, and tried to prevent the deportation of Jews to Nazi extermination camps. Thanks to his efforts, about 400,000 Jews were saved. In his 1987 memoirs, he recalled the “antipathy, hostility and prejudices” Jews faced during World War II. On April 7, 1944, Rabbi Safran made the following statement to Papal Nuncio Andrea Cassulo: “In the most difficult hours which we Jews of Romania have passed through, the generous assistance of the Holy See…was decisive and salutary. It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews — sufferings which had been pointed out to him by you after your visit to Transnistria. The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance.”

Jews firmly believe in justice and truth. Yet, below the portrait of Pope Pius XII at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims, located in Jerusalem, there is a statement that is contrary to the truth and is unjust. It must be repudiated. I contacted the director of Yad Vashem and asked him to consider the efforts of the Pope who helped save hundreds of thousands of Jews and other victims of the Nazis. But will Yad Vashem correct the errors in their statement?

The statement reads: “Pius XII’s reaction toward the killing of Jews during the period of the Holocaust is controversial. In 1933, as the Vatican Secretary of State, in order to maintain the rights of the Church in Germany, he signed a Concordat with the Nazi regime even at the price of recognizing the racist Nazi regime. When he was elected Pope in 1939, he put aside an encyclical against racism and anti-Semitism prepared by his predecessor.” Pius XII wrote his own encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, which dealt with racism. “Although reports about the assassination of Jews reached the Vatican, the Pope did not protest either by speaking out or in writing.” This is not true. Whenever Pius XII spoke out, there was immediate retaliation by the Nazis. There were more than 60 protests! “In December of 1942, he did not participate in the condemnation by members of the Allies regarding the killing of Jews. Even when the Jews were being deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the Pope did not intervene.” The Pope did indeed intervene. After that first day, the Nazi SS were ordered to stop the deportation of the Jews in Rome. “He maintained a neutral position except toward the end of the war when he appealed on behalf of the government of Hungary and of Slovakia. His silence and absence of directives obliged the clergy in Europe to decide independently how they should behave toward the persecuted Jews.” This is also not true. Members of the Church were ordered to protect Jews and all refugees.

Pius XII received praise from Israeli Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Israel Zolli, and many others. Rabbi André Zaoui expressed gratitude for “the immense good and incomparable charity that Your Holiness extended generously to the Jews of Italy and especially the children, women and elderly of the community of Rome.” Rabbi David de Sola Pool, Chairman of the National Jewish Welfare Board, wrote to the Pope: “We have received reports from our army chaplains in Italy of the aid and protection given…. From the bottom of our hearts we send you the assurances of undying gratitude.”

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