The Magazine

History as Bigotry

Daniel Goldhagen slanders the Catholic Church.

Feb 10, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 21 • By DAVID G. DALIN
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GOLDHAGEN IS APPARENTLY UNAWARE (or, more probably, doesn't care) that many distinguished scholars have declared Zuccotti's book "not history but guesswork," as the historian Owen Chadwick put it. Zuccotti's principal charge, mindlessly repeated by Goldhagen, is that there is no credible evidence that Pius XII ever explicitly ordered his subordinates to assist Jews in Italy. In fact, there is a whole body of evidence that proves Pius did. In 1964 Cardinal Paolo Dezza, the wartime rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, published a signed article stating unequivocally that during the German occupation of Rome, Pius XII explicitly told him to help "persecuted Jews" and do so "most willingly." In his 2001 book "Gli ebrei salvati da Pio XII," Antonio Gaspari compiles additional testimonies. And more recently, Gaspari came across new documents, establishing that as early as 1940 Pius XII explicitly ordered his secretary of state, Luigi Maglione, and Maglione's assistant, Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Paul VI), to send money to Jews protected by the bishop of Campagna.

The Nazi deportations of Italy's Jews began in October 1943. Pope Pius ordered churches and convents throughout Italy to shelter Jews, and in Rome itself 155 convents and monasteries sheltered five thousand Jews throughout the German occupation. Pius himself granted sanctuary within the walls of the Vatican, and his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, to countless homeless Jews. Goldhagen's book conspicuously lacks any discussion of Castel Gandolfo, which enjoys a unique place in the annals of Jewish rescue (and Catholic rescuers) during the Holocaust: In no other site in all of Nazi-occupied Europe were as many Jews saved and sheltered for as long a period.

The recently released memoirs of Adolf Eichmann also contain new evidence disproving Goldhagen's claim. The memoirs confirm that Vatican protests played a crucial part in obstructing Nazi intentions for Roman Jews. Eichmann wrote that the Vatican "vigorously protested the arrest of Jews, requesting the interruption of such action." At Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, Israeli attorney general Gideon Hausner said, "the pope himself intervened personally in support of the Jews of Rome." Documents introduced at the trial provide further evidence of Vatican efforts to halt the arrest and deportation of Roman Jews.

No accusation is too preposterous for Goldhagen to accept. Commenting on the Vatican's alleged link to Nazi war criminals, he claims that Alois Hudal, an Austrian prelate and Nazi sympathizer, was "an important Catholic bishop at the Vatican," as well as a "close friend" and "confidant" of Pius XII. Indeed, he adds, both Pius XII and the future Paul VI actively supported Hudal in his criminal assistance to fleeing Nazi war criminals.

As it happens, Alois Hudal was never a bishop "at the Vatican," much less an "important" one, but rather an obscure rector of the Collegio dell' Anima in Rome, where he was placed to confine him to a post of little significance. Hudal also was never a "close friend" of Pius XII or Montini. In fact, Hudal's memoirs bitterly attack the Vatican for steadfastly refusing an alliance with Nazi Germany to combat "godless Bolshevism." Far from assisting Nazi war criminals in their escape, Pius XII authorized the American Jesuit Edmund Walsh to submit to the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg a dossier documenting Nazi war crimes and atrocities. The recent book by David Alvarez, "Spies in the Vatican: Espionage & Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust," shows how much Hitler distrusted and despised Pius XII.

GOLDHAGEN'S VIRULENT "A Moral Reckoning" focuses on Pius XII as the symbol of Catholic evil and repeats almost every accusation, including the most discredited ones, that has ever been leveled against him. But Goldhagen doesn't limit his anti-Catholic diatribe to Pius. Indeed, the point of all the Holocaust material in "A Moral Reckoning" seems to be the concluding pages' attack on John Paul II and the Catholic Church today. Though Goldhagen begrudgingly acknowledges John Paul II's extraordinary efforts to bring Catholics and Jews closer together, he immediately takes this praise back and ultimately contradicts himself entirely by accusing John Paul II of tolerating "anti-Semitic libels and hatreds" during his visit to Syria in the spring of 2001.

Goldhagen claims that "neither John Paul II nor any other Pope has seen fit to make . . . a direct and forceful public statement about Catholics' culpability and the need for all the members of the Church who have sinned during the Holocaust to repent for their many different kinds of offenses and sins against Jews." On the contrary: John Paul II has frequently repented and apologized publicly. In his very first papal audience with Jewish leaders, on March 12, 1979, John Paul II reaffirmed the Second Vatican Council's repudiation of anti-Semitism "as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity," and "which in any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn." During his 1986 visit to Rome's chief synagogue--the first time any reigning pope entered a synagogue--John Paul II publicly acknowledged and apologized for the Church's sins. Insisting that there was no theological justification for discrimination, he apologized to the Roman Jews in attendance (many of whom were Holocaust survivors), declaring that the Church condemns anti-Semitism "by anyone--I repeat: by anyone." In 1994, at the personal initiative of John Paul II, the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1998, the Church issued "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," an official document on the Holocaust. And in 2000, the pope made his historic visit to Israel--one of the great legacies of his pontificate, which has done much to further Catholic-Jewish reconciliation.

But Goldhagen can acknowledge none of this. He identifies Christianity itself as the source of anti-Semitism and declares, "the main responsibility for producing the all-time leading Western hatred lies with Christianity. More specifically, with the Catholic Church." The definition of Jews as Christ-killers, claims Goldhagen, goes back to the origins of Christianity. Indeed, it is still central to Catholic thought today, and it has an "obvious integral relationship to the genesis of the Holocaust."

As the Jewish scholar Michael Berenbaum has noted, Goldhagen "omits all mention of the countervailing traditions of tolerance" within Roman Catholic thought, past and present. He also misrepresents the thought of those early Church leaders who advocated a tolerant attitude toward the Jews. Goldhagen's misrepresentation of St. Augustine's views of Jews and Judaism is especially appalling. As Ronald Rychlak has noted, Goldhagen's exposition on St. Augustine "is little more than a crude and contemptuous canard." Similarly, Goldhagen's unsubstantiated claim that "there is no difference in kind between the Church's 'anti-Judaism' and its off-shoot European anti-Semitism" is as unsubtle a statement as someone who claims to be a historian could possibly make.

In short, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's polemic against Pius XII, John Paul II, and the Catholic Church fails to meet even the minimum standards of scholarship. That the book has found its readership out in the fever swamps of anti-Catholicism isn't surprising. But that a mainstream publisher like Knopf would print the thing is an intellectual and publishing scandal.

Rabbi David G. Dalin, a visiting fellow at Princeton University's James Madison Program, is working on a book about Pius XII, John Paul II, and the Jews.