The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965

Michael Phayer, Author
Michael Phayer, Author Indiana University Press $29.95 (328p) ISBN 978-0-253-33725-2
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-0-253-21471-3
Open Ebook - 324 pages - 978-0-253-10834-0
Open Ebook - 301 pages - 978-1-282-06585-7
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Phayer makes an important addition to the literature of Holocaust studies: he provides evidence that Pope Pius XII (who reigned over the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958) knew in early 1942 what was happening to Europe's Jews (and to non-Jews in Croatia and Poland)--yet he remained silent. The pope, he argues, was a Germanophile who had been schooled as a diplomat: treaties (particularly one he'd drafted between Germany and Rome in 1933) and the Communist threat were his main priorities. Protection of Vatican City from Allied or Axis bombs was another. Phayer contends that, had the pope resisted the Nazis and informed his flock--either overtly or through existing secret channels--about what was happening, there would have been many more Catholic rescuers and fewer collaborators than there were. Phayer also details the Church's postwar policies; it played its part in helping Nazis escape justice, he contends, rather than support efforts to force Germany to pay reparations to survivors. Phayer, however, doesn't only describe the years of Pius XII; he contrasts him with Pope Pius XI and Pope John XXIII (who respectively preceded and followed him), and in doing so he makes a forceful point about the difference strong leadership can make. Both Pius XI and John XXIII used their positions of infallibility to openly and publicly encourage cordiality and acceptance of Jews, culminating in the Church's 1965 declaration that the Jews were not responsible for crucifying Jesus. Pius XII, says Phayer, was in contrast a weak leader and a cowardly one--and the author argues that, given the conditions under which he served, his lack of courage proved devastating. (Sept.)
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