Prudence

DONALD DEMARCO

Pope Pius XII acted against the Nazis, but he did so prudently. Prudence is a virtue closely allied with wisdom. It is usually best appreciated in its results rather than in its execution.

Pope Pius XII
(1876-1958)

Rolf Hochhuth’s play, The Deputy, had its world premiere in Berlin in 1963. The “Deputy” is Pope Pius XII, the “Deputy” or Vicar of Christ. The play was soon translated into English and imported to Broadway in New York City. The playwright contends that Pope Pius XII, when he was the Sovereign Pontiff of the Catholic Church, might have prevented deportations and the mass murder of so many Jewish people had he spoken out against the Nazi extermination camps. His alleged silence, according to Hochhuth, was criminal, inhuman, and cowardly.

The storm of controversy The Deputy generated and continues to generate is almost certainly the largest furor ever raised by a play in the history of drama. Hochhuth himself, an instant celebrity at the age of thirtyone, added to the storm’s intensity when he came to the United States in 1964 accompanied by an unusual amount of media coverage, together with a great outpouring of emotion.

In reviewing the play in 1964, The New York Times stated that its “facts may be in dispute; the history imperfect; the indictment too severe.” The Jesuit magazine America condemned the play as “an atrocious calumny against the memory of a good and courageous world leader occupying the Chair of Peter during one of the great crises of humanity.” Cardinal Francis Spellman called the play “an outrageous desecration of the honor of a great and good man, and an affront to those who know his record as a humanitarian, who love him and revere his memory.”


Careful Action


In response to the play’s contention that the Pontiff was criminally responsible for the death of countless Jews, Jewish historian Pinchus Lapide set to work researching the matter. The result was his book, Three Popes and the Jews, in which he defended Pope Pius XII. According to Lapide, seven to eight hundred thousand Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust owe their lives to the Pontiff ’s leadership.

The Pope may have, at times, been restrained (not “silent”), but he was not inactive. He was certainly prudent. In order to be effective in assisting the Jews, he often had to act surreptitiously. Had he been too outspoken, he most likely would have invited swift and severe retaliation from both the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany. On January 24, 1943, Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop instructed Germany’s ambassador to the Holy See to advise the Pope that if he spoke out against the Third Reich, “Germany does not lack the physical means of retaliation.” When Hochhuth was asked in an interview whether the Pope should have protested publicly, granted that his vocal opposition would have prompted retaliation, his answer was categorical: “Absolutely.” Hochhuth had little affection for prudence.


Severe Retaliation



The Pope may have, at times, been restrained (not “silent”), but he was not inactive. He was certainly prudent. In order to be effective in assisting the Jews, he often had to act surreptitiously. Had he been too outspoken, he most likely would have invited swift and severe retaliation from both the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany.


In April of 1942, the Catholic bishops of Holland published a letter that was read in every Catholic Church in that country. The letter denounced “the unmerciful and unjust treatment meted out to Jews by those in power in our country.” The retaliation was swift and severe. The Nazis rounded up every Catholic religious they could find who had as much as a drop of Jewish blood. They deported some three hundred victims to Auschwitz where they put them to death in gas chambers. Among these victims was the Carmelite nun, philosopher, and mystic, St. Edith Stein. The heroism of the Dutch bishops exacted a terrible price. In addition to the Catholics, the Nazis slaughtered 110,000 people, or 79 percent of Holland’s Jewish population, the highest percentage in any Nazi-occupied nation in Western Europe.

Concerning the persecution of the Jews, Pope Pius XII said to Archbishop Giovanni Battista (later Pope Paul VI), “We would like to utter words of fire against such actions; and the only thing restraining us from speaking is the fear of making the plight of the victims worse.”

In The Pope and the Holocaust, researchers John Rader and Kateryna Fedoryka provide evidence that Hitler had targeted both Popes Pius XI and Pius XII because of their pro-humanity efforts, which included stern repudiations of anti-Semitism. It was only too clear that the Pope could be most helpful if he remained alive and acted covertly. It is now well-known how nearly every Catholic convent in Europe was hiding Jews, and that the Vatican was instrumental in forging thousands of documents, especially in Southern France, to facilitate their emigration. The Pope was involved in the systematic work, done by nuncios throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, of enlightening the heads of governments in Catholic countries about the true and murderous meaning of the word “resettlement.”


Gracious Appreciation

The Jewish community has not been silent about what Pope Pius XII did for his persecuted brethren. In October of 1945, the World Jewish Congress made a financial gift to the Vatican in recognition of the work the Holy See performed in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions. Dr. Israel Goldstein of the same World Jewish Congress said, on the occasion of Pope Pius XII’s death:

The Jewish community told me of their deep appreciation of the policy which had been set by the Pontiff for the Vatican during the period of the Nazi-Fascist regime to give shelter and protection to the Jews, whenever possible.

On the same occasion, Golda Meir cabled her condolences to the Vatican:

When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths.

In February of 1945, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, and his wife, Emma Majonica, were baptized into the Catholic Church. Zolli took the name “Eugenio,” Pope Pius XII’s Christian name.

Pope Pius XII acted against the Nazis, but he did so prudently. Prudence is a virtue closely allied with wisdom. It is usually best appreciated in its results rather than in its execution. For this reason, an observer may not recognize the prudence of a wise man at the moment he is acting prudently. But history offers us 20/20 hindsight. And history has shown that Pope Pius XII acted prudently. It also attests that he acted not only courageously, but also heroically.

For more information on Pope Pius XII’s role in World War II, call CUF’s Catholic hotline at (800) MY–FAITH or click here to view our FAITH FACT entitled “A Friend in Word and Deed: Pope Pius XII and the Jews.”

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

DeMarco, Donald. "Prudence." Lay Witness (July/August 2005): 14-15.

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness.

Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.

THE AUTHOR

Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He also continues to work as a corresponding member of the Pontifical Acadmy for Life. Donanld DeMarco has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2005 LayWitness




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.