It is simply not true, as Gary Krupp of Pave the Way Foundation asserts, that criticism of Pope Pius XII’s public behavior during the Holocaust was “artificially created” and unknown until Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” (Letters, Nov. 11).
The noted Holocaust historian Leon Poliakov first raised concerns in his article, “The Vatican and the ‘Jewish Question’: The Record of the Hitler Period — and After,” which appeared in the November 1950 issue of Commentary. While dealing extensively with the “glorious record of the Catholic Church in its efforts to save [individual] Jewish lives from the Nazi murderers,” he also bemoaned the Pope’s failure to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, the stridently anti-Nazi Pius XI.
“What led the present Pope, Pius XII, to adopt a less forthright policy than Pius XI?” Poliakov asked. “The fact is that during Hitler’s lifetime, the present Pope never clearly condemned the criminal policy of the Third Reich, and that the diplomatic relations between Berlin and the Vatican, although cold and
reserved, remained correct.”
Indeed, he wrote, “Nothing similar to certain statements of Pius XI (let us recall his famous words: ‘We are all Semites spiritually …’) was said at Rome under the pontificate of Pius XII.”
Despite “resounding protests made at the local [church] level, the Pope did not consider it wise to add to these protests the authority of his own voice; or if he did make a public statements, it was with such caution that his words had no effect, or were misunderstood.”
True, Poliakov’s was a lonely voice during this period. But his essay, besides being the first, continues to be one of the most insightful on this painful and complicated subject.