The Magazine

Pius the Good

The brief for a much-maligned pope.

Jun 12, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 37 • By WILLIAM DOINO JR.
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Finally, pointing to the extraordinary tributes the Jewish community offered Pius for saving Jews and fighting anti-Semitism, Dalin slams those authors who have tried to explain these tributes away as mistaken or manufactured in order to promote good Jewish-Catholic relations and reduce anti-Semitism. The idea that Jews manipulate events in their own interests is a motif of classic anti-Semitism, and Dalin confronts Pius's detractors with their own bigotry: To "dismiss and deny the legitimacy of their collective gratitude to Pius XII is tantamount to denying the credibility of their personal testimony and judgment about the Holocaust itself. To so deny and delegitimize their collective memory and experience of the Holocaust . . . is to engage in a subtle yet profound form of Holocaust denial."

If critics are so concerned about anti-Semitism, Dalin asks, why have they ignored the anti-Semitism of one of Pius's major contemporaries, Hajj Amin al-Husseini? Who? you might ask. That's just the problem. Few people know about this virulent character, the scion of a wealthy Arab family who became the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1922.

"From his earliest years," writes Dalin, "al-Husseini was known as a virulent anti-Semite and as an opponent of Jewish immigration to Palestine." His hatred of Jews was so intense that he made overtures to the Nazis, with whom he soon formed an alliance.

"While in Berlin," writes Dalin, "al-Husseini met privately with Hitler on numerous occasions, and called publicly--and repeatedly--for the destruction of European Jewry." At the Nuremberg trials, Adolf Eichmann's deputy was even more explicit: "The mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan. . . . He was one of Eichmann's best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures."

Hitler had a favorite cleric, but it wasn't Pius XII. Dalin is not the first to draw attention to al-Husseini, but he is the first to discuss the mutti within the context of the Pius debate. Juxtaposing the records of the two religious leaders--al-Husseini, the Nazi collaborator par excellence, and Pius XII, who never met Hitler--highlights the duplicity and hypocrisy of Pius's critics.

In defending the good name of Pius XII, Dalin does not stand alone. One of the most encouraging signs in recent years is the wealth of new scholarship supporting Pius. The work of Margherita Marchione and Ronald Rychlak in America; Michael Feldkamp in Germany; Matteo Luigi Napolitano, Andrea Tornielli, and Antonio Gaspari in Italy; and Michael Burleigh and Sir Martin Gilbert in Great Britain all indicate a new outlook on the wartime pontiff. In fact, Gilbert, Winston Churchill's official biographer, and one of the most respected historians of the Holocaust, has been particularly eloquent in his praise of Pius.

So we have come full circle. Pius's reputation declined after Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 attack in The Deputy, only to climb slowly up again as the fraudulence of Hochhuth's complaint became clear. His reputation plummeted again in the 1990s as multiple books attacking him hit the bestseller lists. With The Myth of Hitler's Pope, David Dalin has begun the work of reestablishing the truth.

William Doino Jr. writes for Inside the Vatican and is a contributor to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII.