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January 15, 2002
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v2.1 Reference

Pius XII and the Holocaust

Understanding the Controversy

Pope Pius XII's alleged silence in the face of the destruction of the European Jews during World War II has been the subject of a fierce controversy that has continued unabated ever since Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy made the charge so spectacularly in 1963. Numerous critics have accused Pius of everything from deliberate anti-Semitism to collusion with the Nazi regime, while equally partisan defenders have argued that his silent diplomacy saved hundreds of thousands of Jews and other innocent victims from Nazi terror. So contentious has Pius' role become that the phrase "the silence of Pius XII" has taken on a life of its own, beyond the facts.

In this highly accessible work, José M. Sánchez offers a new approach to the controversy. He discusses the reasons given for Pius' behavior by the significant authors who have contributed to the dispute and evaluates their findings in the light of the published documents. He studies the controversial events that critics have cited to prove their contentions about the Pope, from his role in the negotiation of the German concordat of 1933 to the end of World War II in 1945. Sánchez provides a full examination of Pius' public and private comments on the war and the destruction of the European Jews.

This analysis moves outside the traditional views to rephrase the issues. It is the first work to clearly and completely summarize the basic charges and defenses. It is also the first to bring to the dispute a full treatment of Pius' personality in the context of the institutional framework within which he operated. With a conclusion that summarizes the findings and offers the author's judgment on the issues, this study will enable readers to evaluate and understand one of the most heated controversies of modern times.

José M. Sánchez is professor of history at Saint Louis University. He is the author of several works, including The Spanish Civil War as a Religious Tragedy.


"One of the hottest arguments among twentieth-century historians concerns Pope Pius XII's response to the Holocaust. Was Pius Hitler's Pope, as John Cornwell's 1999 best-seller styled him? Or was he, as his apologists insist, the foremost defender of all the peoples Nazism targeted for destruction? Sanchez measures both positions' claims against the available evidence. He is hampered by the same 75-year lock on papal documents that frustrates other researchers (Cornwell gained permission to see some of Pius' papers but, Sanchez argues, viewed them through the lens of disapproval) but not by preconceptions. He sketches Pius' life, the issues, and existing sources of information, then assesses what Pius could have known about the Holocaust, parses his statements about World War II, considers various motives advanced to explain his policies, discusses his personality, and imagines the effects had Pius strongly protested Nazi oppression, especially of the Jews. He concludes that Pius' dual responsibilities as vicar of Christ and leader of the church became impossible to reconcile. Indispensable for, as the subtitle says, understanding the controversy"—Booklist

"After the hype associated with John Cornwell's 1999 work Hitler's Pope, this careful, scholarly study of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust is a refreshing contribution to a debate that continues more than a half century after the end of World War II. Sanchez thoughtfully examines the various arguments on both sides of a controversy that will likely never be resolved. In doing so, he presents a dispassionate, documented tome that exhibits a high degree of fairness. Sanchez began his research in 1998 to provide a fresh, balanced look at a topic on which most authors have found it necessary to weigh in heavily on one side or the other. . . . Sanchez's treatment is ideal for students of history and anyone interested in an objective analysis of a contro

The Catholic University of America Press

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