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Was Pius XII really “silent” in the face of Nazism?

Often criticized by secular historians as being “silent” in the face of evil, Pope Pius XII’s actions saved the lives of thousands.

The Soviets were excellent at propaganda. So when they decided that Pius XII was an enemy of theirs—due to his hard stance against Communism—they initiated a campaign to destroy his memory. The operation was called “Operation Seat 12.”

It’s incredible how much this dis-information campaign succeeded. Anti-Pius-XII books and media were still appearing in the 2000s. It seems that Pius XII is still shaking off the false accusations leveled against him for his supposed “silence” in the face of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

The truth is that his silence—far from being the result of cowardice or a conciliatory approach—was a careful tactic that was critical to his success in saving hundreds of thousands of Jews from death.

It was no secret to anyone, including the Nazis, what the Vatican thought of their views. Pius XI and Eugenio Pacelli—as Archbishop, Cardinal, then as Pius XII—had condemned Nazism multiple times in various ways, through audiences, speeches, and encyclicals. Cardinal Pacelli was a major contributor to Mit brennender Sorge, Pius XI’s encyclical condemning Nazi ideology. As Pope Pius XII, he spoke again in Summi Pontificatus, which took aim at National Socialism and Communism.

The only thing Pius XII didn’t do was publicly name names and speak in explicit terms, though neither the persecuted nor the persecutors had any doubt as to who his words were directed against.

The reason for this careful use of words was the bitter fruit that a direct approach had borne. In Holland, when the Dutch bishops had publicly protested the Nazi persecution of Jews, the crackdown against the Church was brutal. A similar thing had happened in Germany after the publication of Mit brennender Sorge.

Pius XII mentioned twice—once in a letter to a bishop, and again in an address to the College of Cardinals—his deliberate avoidance of the sort of direct condemnation that modern critics think he should have made. He knew it would perpetuate more death. So he talked in “code,” you might say—but he didn’t stop there. He also took action.

The Church worked tirelessly to save the Jews in Europe by forging documents, smuggling them abroad, and hiding them in Church buildings. In Rome, 5,000 Jews were hidden in religious houses and 3,000 in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s own private residence. When all was said and done, the Pope contributed to the rescue of as many as one million Jews throughout Europe.

Jewish leaders at the time were outspoken in their gratitude to Pius XII. Although his enemies tried to bring him down, modern-day Jewish historians and personages have also insisted on Pope Pius XII’s heroic role in saving their people.

Read more about Pius XII’s exploits during the war in Vatican Secret Archives: Unknown Pages of Church History. This fascinating book, based on the authors’ research into the Vatican’s historical archives, delves deep into many long-debated topics such as the trial of Galileo, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. Filled with beautiful pictures and first-class research, this book makes the perfect Christmas gift. Pick up a copy today!

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