In his letter (Nov.15) on Pope Pius XII, Eric Fettmann cites Leon Poliakov’s article, published in Commentary (November 1950), as an early criticism of Pope Pius XII. It is true that Poliakov was troubled that the pope did not go further in his wartime public statements. However, Fettmann ignores the fact that Poliakov conceded the argument that “public protests would have brought no help to the victims, and might have produced contrary effects.” Poliakov cited the tragic case in the Netherlands where the energetic protests by the Dutch Catholic bishops in 1942 not only failed to stop the Nazi arrest of Dutch Jews but also resulted in the arrest of Jews who had converted to Catholicism and who were previously excluded from the anti-Semitic measures.
In his article, Poliakov wrote that during World War II, the papacy retreated to its “medieval tradition” of protecting Jews from persecution and instructed the churches throughout Europe “to intervene in favor of the Jews by every possible means.” In his other books, “Harvest of Hate” (1954) and “Jews Under the Italian Occupation” (1955), co-written with Jacques Sabille, Poliakov credited the pope with saving many Jewish lives.
For Fettmann to identify Leon Poliakov, who died in 1997, as an early critic of Pope Pius XII is a bit of a stretch.
Those who believe that more fiery language by Pius XII would have brought Adolf Hitler to his knees or resulted in the saving of more innocent victims, Jewish and non-Jewish, apparently exaggerate the papacy’s influence.
In 1870, fiery protests by Pope Pius IX failed to stop the Kingdom of Italy from invading the Papal States and eventually abolishing them. Papal excommunications of King Henry VIII in 1533, Queen Elizabeth I in 1570 and Napoleon in 1809 had no effect.
In the end, the only thing that would have stopped Hitler, his collaborators and the countless atrocities in the concentration camps was brute force, as Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Charles de Gaulle and Pope Pius XII recognized. With no army, navy, or air force at his disposal, it is ridiculous to believe that Pius XII could save more lives with stronger language and even excommunication alone.