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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Saint Pius XII" and Holocaust Denial

We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in Christendom. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.
It is this that defines Jewish Holocaust denial.

The beatification process of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, maintains open the question of world leaders, not just the Vatican, of passive complicity in the destruction of European Jewry. Under the Vatican leadership of Pius XII some Jews were protected, as were a few by Churchill's England and Roosevelt's United States. Indeed there were Jews who, following the war, hailed Pacelli a hero, as there were those who hailed Churchill and Roosevelt for their assumed efforts in behalf of our victims. But, as with the Vatican, neither of the "world's leading democracies" made any effort beyond symbolic to save Europe's Jews. Yes, towards the end of the war Roosevelt hesitantly permitted a few fleeing death to be housed in a refugee camp in upper New York State. England apparently had a somewhat better record of admitting Jews fleeing death. But British-controlled Palestine, the only real refuge for the victims remained closed to them. And the death camps and the rail lines daily feeding our victims remained untouched, free to pursue their obsession to rid Europe and the world of Jews. And allied bombers daily over-flew the death camps and their rail feeder lines daily.

The claim is made that the Vatican intelligence network was the most extensive regarding the unfolding Holocaust and this may have been so. But this does not change the fact that England’s monitoring of German military communications provided up-to-date reports of Einsatsgruppen success in a Germany’s pre-Auschwitz murder campaign. In less than a year those death squads managed to murder up-close and personal by rifle, machine gun and pistol one million Jews while the allies chose to look the other way.

Did Pacelli’s Vatican assist Nazi’s to evade justice, assist them to find new homes in South America? This is well documented. But so also is the complicity of the US in the effort called, at the time, the Rat Line. But America went a step further by inviting those Nazis considered more valuable to quietly settle in the United States. Among those who found refuge from prosecution for war crimes was, most famously, Hitler’s rocket scientist von Braun, whose efforts involved working his slave laborers to death.

Of guilt enough there is enough to go around. Not just Pacelli's Vatican, but Roosevelt's United States, Churchill's England. And while Germany may have been the inspiration behind the Holocaust that country could not have succeeded in cleansing Europe of its six million Jews without the open and enthusiastic support of the people and governments of Europe itself. France apparently had no problem of conscience rounding up its Jews for transport to death; and not even members of those einsatsgruppe expressed revulsion in those field reports ignored by the allies at the excesses of East European townspeople, inspired by their German occupiers, clubbing their Jewish neighbors to death. Even after the war, many among the tiny and emaciated Jewish remnant returning from the death camps faced a frenzy of antisemitic assault, were clubbed to death by the residents of the towns to which they sought to return. Who needed the “Nazis” to inspire and blame?

None of which is justification for the beatification of Eugenio Pacelli, of course. But then how should we respond to the same complicity-by-passivity of, say, Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Let us not, we Jews who by accident of birth location survived the Holocaust, be distracted by the celebrity of a single high profile instance of Holocaust denial. Conclusions must be drawn also from the obvious fact that our leaders also are guilty, also complicit in the murder of Europe’s Jews.

Holocaust denial comes in many shades and serves many purposes. When not intentionally antisemitic, its proponents may simply be attempting to distance Christendom’s murder of Jews in the 1940’s from Christianity’s gospel-inspired theology of Jew-hatred. Persecuting and murdering the Jews is, after all, as long as the Diaspora in Europe. And while no less reprehensible, this motive is at least understandable. But what's in for we Jews who ourselves deny the implications of the Holocaust? What do we gain from criticizing the Vatican move to promote to sainthood an individual clearly flawed as judged by his response to the unfolding policy of the Holocaust; at the same time choosing not to judge our own national leadership who were no less guilty?

Viewed through the same moral lens by which we criticize the beatification of the head of the Holocaust-era Vatican, Roosevelt comes out no less blemished. We Jews are justifiably outraged by this Vatican action; at the same time we choose to ignore that of our own national leaders. Towards what purpose?

As long as Shoah occurred "over there," perpetrated by leaders “over there” we, resident of our own "exceptional" Diaspora haven can rest easy. As did our relatives in Germany in the 1920's we can deny our continuing Diaspora history of victimhood and assure ourselves of a continuing and happy future, a safe haven for our children, and theirs.

We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in Christendom. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.

It is this that defines Jewish Denial.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It’s highly misleading to make so much hoopla about the Pius XII’ putative actions in defense of the Jews during the war: they were meager, largely ineffective, and many times they were made to create precisely the type of appearance of action we are seeing defended today. As Pius’ close aide, Msgr. Tardini, explained in an internal Vatican memo after a tepid admonition to the Slovakian President-priest Tiso, “This will make known to the world that the Holy See fulfills its duty of charity.” Or, when Jesuit Father Tacchi Venturi made a symbolic inquiry about the fate of the Jews of Rome, he then informed his superiors that “A step like this by the Holy See, even if it does not obtain the desired effect, will without doubt help increase the veneration and gratitude toward the August Person of the Holy Father.” In a similar case a Holy See official mentioned some potential actions the Holy See could take on behalf of the Jews, knowing that they would be totally ineffective and they would fail. He did this knowing that “if nothing else, it will always be possible to say that the Holy See has done everything possible to help these unhappy people.”

The Church claims that propelling Pius XII into the sainthood is a reflection of his religious actions, and that may be so. However, Pius XII was not just a religious figure: he was the pope, the leader of an international organization responsible for the care of hundreds of millions of souls, and he was the leader of a state with a fully operational government with influence on a global scale. So his actions—or inactions—cannot be measured solely based on what his contributions to the advancement of faith was. Certainly not for someone who ruled over the Catholic Church at a time when almost half the German population and the vast majority of Austrian, French, Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian and other populations that collaborated with the Germans in executing the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” were Catholic.

Gabriel Wilensky

Six Million Crucifixions:
How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust
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