A great man once said, "Politics is inherently stupid." That great man was me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Appalling Myth of "Hitler's Pope"

With great respect to my esteemed colleague (whose blog I rather enjoy), I must express my disagreement. The following is a critique of a fellow student's paper I wrote last year during my "Holocaust in Modern Perspective" seminar course. The critique debunks much of the "Hitler's Pope" myth. For your reading enjoyment, I have presented it here:

This critique is of (Student’s Name)’s paper, “The Silence of Pope Pius XII During the Holocaust.” The five main questions that will be addressed in this critique are:

· Is there a valid central thesis?

· Is the thesis clearly proven?

· Can the person making the presentation cite sources?

· Does the presentation contain sufficient detail or can the presenter give more detail when asked?

· Does the presentation have unity, order and clarity?

The first question addresses whether or not the paper has a valid central thesis. When reading the paper, I generally understood the points (Student’s Name) was trying to make: that the he feels Pope Pius XII did not do enough to help Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust and that this issue is indeed a very controversial one. However, while his arguments were never in doubt, the paper could likely have benefited from a direct thesis statement of these two positions. He does directly say in his introduction what his paper entails, but at the same time there is no direct statement of the position he takes. I think that this could have made what is quite evidently a strong paper even stronger in its arguments. In the end, there is still no doubt as to what his thesis is.

The second question is whether or not the paper clearly proves its thesis. He has done a good job of providing supporting evidence for his thesis. There are a few areas of his paper that could benefit from a little more details, however. For example, if he listed the points made by Rabbi David G. Dalin in regard to John Cornwell’s book “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII” and then attempted to refute them individually, he could provide an even stronger case for his thesis. I feel that trying to portray all sides of the debate on Pius XII without definitively stating his thesis makes it harder for him to make his point. In the end, it seems that he attempts to both defend and condemn Pius XII despite the seemingly clear position that he takes; that is that Pius XII could have done far more for the Jews during the Holocaust. This is understandable, as this is a very controversial topic and there is no definitive consensus among historians. The benefit of this is that (Student’s Name) does a very good job explaining the different positions that the scholars take in regards to Pius XII’s actions during the Second World War. This makes for a very informative paper.

I must bring up two points of information in regards to some of the statements made in (Student’s Name)’s paper. The first is that on July 23rd, 2001, the chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) disbanded the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission which examined the role of Pius XII and the church during the Holocaust[1]. (Student’s Name) points out that the Vatican has denied the commission access to the further documents that it had requested. After providing a detailed list of answers to the 47 questions proposed by the committee, the Vatican has since released more documents on these matters in 2002, 2003 and 2005[2].

The second point of information deals with the church’s response to the anti-Semitic measures passed by Vichy France. He quite correctly mentions that Pius XII’s critics claim there was no objection to these measures. However, Msgr. Valerio Valeri, the papal nuncio and official voice of the Pope in France specifically condemned the measures. When told by Petain that church officials had supported such measures, he checked with Cardinal Maglione. Maglione looked into the matter and indeed confirmed that nothing said in the meeting with Petain could be interpreted as support for anti-Semitic measures. Msgr. Valeri then reiterated the church’s protest of the measures[3].

The final concern I have deals with (Student’s Name)’s statement that one of the easiest things to criticize Pius XII for was that during the round up of Italian Jews during November of 1943 the Pope displayed “inaction.” While going over the paper, I checked the web-site he provided as a guide to Pius XII’s actions during the Second World War, and it states that Pius XII was told of this beforehand and personally gave the orders that resulted in 477 Jews being hidden inside the Vatican and another 4,238 being hidden in monasteries and convents throughout Rome[4]. Unfortunately, this does weaken an otherwise quite strong body of support for his thesis.

In regards to the citing of sources, (Student’s Name) does an excellent job. In order to support his thesis, he has provided a solid bedrock of sources from a variety of backgrounds. In particular he has done well in providing perspectives on this controversial subject from both gentile and Jewish perspectives. His referencing of both Saul Friedlander and Sister Marchione is clear evidence that he has taken the time to ensure that a myriad of views on the subject were presented. Especially commendable is his citing of both Jewish detractors and supporters of Pius XII, as the Holocaust is of course undeniably a predominantly Jewish event and Jewish insight into this controversy is an important aspect of the debate. Again, he has done an excellent job citing his sources.

As to whether (Student’s Name) provides sufficient detail in his paper or not, I feel that he generally does. This is a topic that is not easily compressed into a short research paper, and (Student’s Name) has done his best in attempting to cover as much of the background material and major controversies of this issue as possible. The only issue I have is that, as noted, he did not specifically focus on Pius’ actions during the Second World War. Although he has provided a link to a web-site that contains this information, I feel that this information is critical to examining the role of the church and Pius XII during the war. While I do recognize that for the sake of a concise paper not all of the details that one would like to see can be included, I feel that this information is critical to the topic, and for the sake of one or two pages more, should be included. Again, this information would make an already strong paper even stronger in the presentation of its thesis.

The final question concerns whether or not the paper has unity, order and clarity. (Student’s Name) has written an excellent paper that is unified, ordered and certainly clear. He lists the topics that his paper entails in its introduction and then discusses them, one by one. Each section has a clearly marked title which indicates to the reader the topic that it will discuss. In his conclusion he clearly and concisely summarizes the main points discussed in the paper. Overall, this is a well written paper that clearly and strongly provides support for its thesis.


Web Sites

Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust [online encyclopedia article]. Available from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/pius.html. Internet: accessed 23 February 2006.

The Committee That Couldn’t Shoot Straight [essay on-line]. Available from
http://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/cmmssP12.htm. Internet: accessed 23 February 2006

[1] The Committee That Couldn’t Shoot Straight [essay on-line]; available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/cmmssP12.htm; Internet: accessed 23 February 2006.

[2] The Committee That Couldn’t Shoot Straight [essay on-line]; available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/cmmssP12.htm; Internet: accessed 23 February 2006.

[3] The Committee That Couldn’t Shoot Straight [essay on-line]. available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/cmmssP12.htm. Internet: accessed 23 February 2006.

[4] Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust [online encyclopedia article]; available from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/pius.html; Internet: accessed 23 February 2006.

Even though the student's job in the paper was to criticize Pacelli for "inaction" during the war, his research forced him to take the opposite route: he ended up praising Pacelli for his courageous efforts to save Jews during the war.

The entire "Hitler's Pope" myth is based upon Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play The Deputy. Hochhuth was an anti-Catholic and his play was a work of fiction; nonetheless it has become entrenched as truth in many circles.

As for John Cornwell, most historians (the one's worth their salt) have disparaged Cornwell's work as absolute rubbish at best. It is at the very least unscholarly, just as Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners is.

For more information on the myth of "Hitler's Pope," please visit Sir Martin Gilbert's take on John Cornwell and the "Hitler's Pope" myth. Gilbert is most famous as Sir Winston Churchill's official biographer.

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