Historian Sir Martin Gilbert Defends Pius XII

Goebbels Saw in Him an Enemy of Nazism

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ROME, FEB. 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Sir Martin Gilbert, considered one of the greatest living historians, praised Pope Pius XII's efforts on behalf of the Jews throughout World War II.



In an interview broadcast Feb. 2 on C-Span, Gilbert was asked if Pope Eugenio Pacelli was passive in face of Nazism.

Gilbert replied: "Please read my new book, 'The Righteous.' I've written extensively there about the Catholic Church, some of whose leaders played a remarkable part in the rescue of Jews, many of whose priests and [...] ordinary Catholics played a remarkable part."

"The Pope himself was denounced by Dr. Goebbels" -- the Nazi propaganda minister -- "for having taken the side of the Jews in the Christian message, in December 1942, where he criticized racism," Gilbert said.

He continued: "The Pope also played a part, which I describe in some detail, in the rescue of three-quarters of the Jews of Rome, at very short notice, when the SS came in and tried to round up all 5,000, at least 4,000 of whom were given shelter in the Vatican itself and other Catholic places. ...

"So I hope that my book can restore, in a way, on the foundation of historical fact, the true and wonderful achievements of Catholics in helping Jews during the war."

Gilbert, a Jew, is an expert on World War II and the Holocaust. In 1968 he was appointed Sir Winston Churchill's official biographer. He is author of 70 books, including "The Holocaust," "Auschwitz and the Allies," "The First World War," "The Second World War," and "A History of the Twentieth Century."

Three years ago, Gilbert published the book "Never Again: A History of the Holocaust." Interviewed by United Press International, the English historian said: "Christians were among the first victims of the Nazis. ... One of the things I try to bring out in the book is that the Christian churches took a very powerful stand. ... At every stage of the Holocaust, the Church had no hesitation ... all the great bishops of France protested the deportations, ... Poland had more Righteous Gentiles than any other country."

In the same book, Gilbert says that he is not unaware that some Christians, violating their faith, did not oppose the Nazis, but he explained "that they did so, in spite of, and not because of, their religion. This was particularly true regarding the Catholic Church, whose moral teachings against racism, anti-Semitism and murder were perfectly clear."

Gilbert added: "I try to find out what the Catholic Church and churchmen and Pacelli himself actually did do. So the test for Pacelli was when the Gestapo came to Rome to round up Jews. And the Catholic Church, on his direct authority, immediately dispersed as many Jews as they could."

In regard to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's accusations that all Germans collaborated with the Nazi persecution and with Hitler's collaborators, Gilbert commented: "There were people in Germany who, despite the terrifying pressure of the Gestapo, took enormous risks and did save Jews, and did try to help Jews. ...

"There were many other Schindlers who, instead of acting like vicious conquerors, made tremendous efforts to try to save Jews, not just individual Jews, but sometimes dozens and even hundreds."

Gilbert added: "The 'other side of the coin' is given full justice in 'The Righteous,' which contains an entire chapter on German heroism."

With reference to John Paul II's public request for forgiveness during the Jubilee, Gilbert said that he deeply appreciates the Pope's efforts to acknowledge the abuses certain Catholics have committed against Jews in the past.

But the historian emphasized that "this should not be viewed in a one-sided fashion, as it now often is. If the Pope has to apologize perhaps someone should also thank him. In fact, my book does thank him for what the Vatican did to save Jewish lives."