Silence then and now

Silence then and now

Clearly, canonization of saints is the prerogative of the Vatican. (“Interfaith dialogue hits its stride on second day,” Nov. 3). Certainly it is aimed at extolling the virtues of extraordinary individuals for the purpose of binding Catholics together in faith. However, it can also serve far less lofty goals. Should the Church ultimately conclude that Pope Pius XII is worthy of sainthood, they will be venerating a pope who did little to stand up to the Nazis and speak truth to power. If both Jews and Catholics who have devoted years to studying Pius XII’s place in the history of the Holocaust are opposed to so honoring this man, it is because of the political implications his sainthood would confer. In fact, mythologizing him by exaggerating his role in helping save Jews would result in a form of Holocaust denial.

In 1997, the Bishops of France published a “Declaration of Repentance.” In this document they wrote, “For the most part, those in authority in the Church, caught up in a loyalty and docility that went far beyond obedience traditionally accorded to civil authorities, remained stuck in conformity, prudence and abstention.” It would be tremendously heartening and inspiring to know that Pius XII was a more courageous humanitarian than he appears to have been and that he acted, as so many rescuers did, to save others. Unfortunately, no substantial evidence to support such claims has yet surfaced. It is no accident that many refer to Pius XII as the “Silent Pope.”

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht. If there is a lesson to be learned from that catastrophe it is that the world’s silence in Kristallnacht’s aftermath was the costliest silence in history. Kristallnacht, the opening salvo of WWII, resulted in unprecedented destruction. Whole cities were reduced to rubble. Countless millions were displaced and wounded. More than 50 million people were killed.

In November, 1938 the world deliberately chose to ignore what Germany and Austria (which had willingly become part of greater Germany by then) perpetrated on Kristallnacht. They assumed it was a discreet event, aimed only at Jews. They were wrong; it was merely the beginning of the cataclysm. Only synagogues were burned on Kristallnacht, but the war which began the following September, when Germany attacked Poland, left many churches, and even cathedrals, in smoldering ruins. Pius XII had been elected pope the previous March but six years earlier, in July 1933, as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, he signed a Concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich. Among the first victims Germany claimed in WWII were thousands of Polish priests and nuns.

Barbara Wind
Holocaust Council of MetroWest

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