Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy

Susan Zuccotti, Author
Susan Zuccotti, Author Yale University Press $40 (408p) ISBN 978-0-300-08487-0
Reviewed on: 12/11/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Paperback - 436 pages - 978-0-300-09310-0
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Even before WWII ended in Europe, defenders of Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), according to the author, were busy manufacturing a myth that the Holy Father directly and indirectly was responsible for saving the lives of ""hundreds of thousands"" of Jews. Coming both from Jews and Christians, these testimonials seemed to be proof that Pius XII personally intervened in the rescue of Jews from the Shoah, a view supported by the Jesuit Robert Graham, Sister Margherita Marchione, the Catholic League and the current pope, John Paul II. However, a recent spate of books, including John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope and Michael Phayer's The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, have severely damaged the claims of papal intervention. To definitively separate myth from reality, historian Zuccotti's new book, while hindered somewhat by the partial accessibility of Vatican archives to scholars, is an authoritative, balanced and, in the end, devastating indictment of moral failure on the part of the Church as an institution, despite the heroic acts of some of its members. Indeed, Zuccotti clearly delineates a history of anti-Semitism in Italy and the Vatican, including the policies of Pacelli's immediate predecessor, Pope Pius XI, who, despite his ""hidden encyclical"" denouncing racism, was, she says, publicly timid in the face of fascism and Nazism. Moreover, she maintains that her primary source, the 11-volume Actes et documents du Saint Si ge relatifs la seconde guerre mondiale, a collection selectively put together after the war by the handpicked representatives of the Vatican, is ""more than adequate"" to determine what the Vatican ""actually did to help Jews in Italy, the country where they enjoyed the greatest opportunity to be useful."" What emerges is a complex picture: According to this account, Pius XII was informed early on about the massacres taking place on the eastern front, but he publicly condemned neither Nazism nor the persecution of the Jews, nor did he provide refuge. Until scholars are permitted full and unfettered access to the archives, the story of the Vatican's actions during the Holocaust must remain incomplete. And until then, Zuccotti's treatise will stand for many as the the greatest access to the truth available. (Jan.)
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