RJ

R. J. Grigaitis, O.F.S.

RJ’s Weekly Thought

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Pius XII, Friend of the Jews

2008-01-18

I really like the movie Schindler's List. It is a wonderful tribute to a man that saved almost 1200 Jews during the Holocaust. I think another movie should be made, this time a tribute to a man that saved between 700,000 and 860,000 Jews from the Nazi executioners: Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII on March 2nd, 1939.

You may have heard of him because of the controversial book Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell. The historical accuracy of this book is summed up with its cover. The cover is intended to show the pope leaving a meeting with the Third Reich; even Adolf Hitler possibly. In reality, the photograph was taken in 1927 while he was still nuncio to Germany; twelve years before he became pope, and six years before Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. The meeting he was leaving was a reception for Paul von Hindenburg, president of the Weimar Republic, which Eugenio Pacelli was obliged to attend as nuncio.

Today there are numerous such twists on history. Even respected individuals are ignorant of the facts. In 1998, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisreal Meir Lau, publicly asked, "Pius XII, where were you? Why were you silent during the Kristallnacht?" The Kristallnacht took place November 9th and 10th, 1938; again, before Eugenio Pacelli became pope. Nonetheless, the next day, two Italian newspapers ran the rabbi's damning question as their headline, with the subhead "The Shameful Silence of Pius XII."

Yisreal Meir Lau's predecessors were not ignorant of the facts. After World War II, many prominent Jews publicly thanked Pius XII for his help. In 1945, the general secretary of the World Jewish Council, Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, presented Pius XII with a gift of money "in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions." In the same year, Harry Greenstein of Baltimore, a close friend of Chief Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem, told Pius XII how grateful the Jews were for all he had done for them. To which the pope replied, "My only regret is not to have been able to save a greater number of Jews." Even the Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel, which refused to play Wagner because they considered him Hitler's inspirational composer, asked permission to perform before Pius XII.

If anyone deserves a movie tribute for saving Jews from the Nazis, it's Pope Pius XII.

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