For years there has been controversy over the role of Pius XII and his conduct during the Holocaust. A couple of years ago John Cornwall came out with a book called Hitler's Pope. This book is clearly superior to this one in many ways. Zuccotti is an expert in both Italian history and the Holocaust and she has fully researched both the available dioscean archives and the twelve volume series of Vatican documents in the second world war. She is noticeably fair, giving the pope credit where credit is due, and is careful about the risks a firmer anti-Nazi policy would have achieved. What is her conclusion? "As some 6,746 Jews from Italy were being shipped north to share the fate of the others, the pope's own countrymen similarly looked to him for guidance. They found little or nothing."
Pius XII has many defenders, but Zuccotti is good in showing where they are wrong. She points out that there was a certain degree of hostility or coolness in pre-war Catholic newspapers. These were not parochial or insignificant papers: they were leading papers of either the Vatican or the Jesuits. She points out that while Pius XI did say "Spiritually, we are all Semites" in 1938, the L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican paper, did not. There was some support in the Vatican, if not for the racist 1938 Italian laws, for measures that reduced the Jews to second- class citizenship. She also points out that for several years the Vatican concentrated what attention it did give to Jewish converts to Catholicism. Zuccotti is good at dismantling other myths. In defense of his shameful silence about the deportation of Roman Jews, defenders said he donated money when the Nazis imposed a forced loan on the Jewish Community. In point of fact he merely offered to loan them money, and only after he had been asked by the Jewish community when they incorrectly thought they might not be able to raise the money themselves. Papal defenders like Father Robert Leiber, Joseph Lichten and Pinchas Lapide claim that the Vatican helped arrange 3,000 visas to Jews and converts, when in fact less than a thousand went to converts, with most of the Vatican money was actually a contribution from Jewish agencies.
Pius XII has benefited from the belief that what good things the Church did do must have been an expression of his will. It is a key value of this book that Zuccotti shows that was not the case. Italian foreign ministry officials actually took the initiative in making sure Jews were not deported from occupied Croatia, while the rather mild-mannered protests and interventions at most bucked up their confidence. Pius XII's own criticisms of the Nazis and Nazi racism were vague. "Jews" were never mentioned, "descent" (as opposed to race) was only mentioned a handful of times. Those who were already sympathetic to Jews could read support for their own activities, those who were not could ignore the Jews with a clear conscience. Much of the Catholic initiative came from individual priests and bishops, while much of the help and the money came from Jewish organizations themselves, such as Desalem. If there has been a written order to help the Jews, why was it not in the twelve volumes of Vatican documents? If there was a written order, why did the Patriarch of Venice, the Archbishop of Perugia and other priests do little or nothing to help?
The Pope by later 1942, had enough information to know that the Jews of Europe faced an unprecedented danger. He should have done more but did not. He and his predecessor could have condemned the racial laws of the 1930s. He could have condemned them again after Mussolini's fall. He could have given the papal order that his defenders assume that he did. One might add to Zuccotti's claim that he could have informed the hierarchy in Ireland, Switzerland, Canada and the United States to do more to help the Jews. This would have been especially helpful in Canada, which had a truly pathetic record in helping refugees and much Catholic opposition to doing more. (As one can see in Irving Abella's None is Too Many) One might even add that as head of the Church Pius XII should have realized he should have run more risks, not less, than occupied Europe. But he did not. Reading Zuccotti's book, we find that though Pius XII was as celibate as a saint, he had the soul of a bureaucrat.
Having read several recent books on this subject, I find that an author's bias is reflected in his/her writing more on this issue than perhaps on any other. This is particularly striking in the recent Rychlak book ("Hitler, the War, and the Pope") which is unabashed propaganda, veiled thinly or not at all. Even the more objective Cornwell book ("Hitler's Pope"), although it supports the opposite side of the debate, has occasional undertones of prejudice.
In contrast to these and some other authors, Zuccotti presents her arguments by giving fair consideration to both sides of the issue. Her fine scholarship is evident throughout this entire study, which is meticulously annotated and documented, but her writing is directed to general readers of history, rather than to her professional peers. The book makes for very enjoyable reading on this painfully tragic subject.
Anyone who is interested in reading about Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) and his efforts--or lack thereof--to reduce or even address the persecution of European Jews before and during World War II should begin with this book.