Friedlander came to fame in the 1960s as a young, dynamic researcher who produced the controversial book, Pius XII and the Third Reich: A Documentation (1966). That workpublished in the wake of Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy, and the subsequent debate over Pius XII's wartime conductcontains documentation of unquestionable importance. But it is also deeply flawed, carrying only a partial selection of texts and presented only in such a way as to indict Pius and the Church.
In a scathing critique published in America at the time, the late Jesuit Robert Graham, the leading authority on the Vatican's wartime record, concluded: "In my reasonably wide reading of professionally written history books, never have I found such massive uncritical use of primary sources, such wholesale arbitrary and ill-informed commentary, such carelessness in checking basic facts on which speculation is based, so many irrelevancies erected into significant events. . . . This book is not history but a very low level of political mythology. "
Still, Friedlander has his admirers. Among them is Richard J. Evans, the British historian who teaches at Cambridge and who himself is now writing a multivolume history of Nazi Germany. Reviewing Friedlander's latest book, The Years of Extermination (the second of his two-volume epic mentioned above), Evans gave it the kind of endorsement most authors dream about: "It now establishes itself as the standard historical work on Nazi Germany's mass murder of Europe's Jews. . . . Friedlander succeeds in binding together many different strands of his story with a sure touch. He has written a masterpiece that will endure. "
Since the Holocaust targeted Jews in a unique and unprecedented way, The Years of Extermination naturally focuses on contemporary Jewish historyoften quite movingly, one might add. But the reality of the Holocaust is also inextricably linked to the history of Christianity, and in ways still fiercely debated. For those of us interested in the Church's response to the genocide, Evans comments are instructive:
Friedlander's narrative sweeps across an entire continent, encompassing every country affected by the Nazi drive for domination. In Bulgaria and Slovakia, popular outrage at the genocide forced governments initially willing to collaborate to change their stance. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries played a part in articulating such feelings, and individual priests in Germany and elsewhere sometimes paid for their courageous opposition with their lives. But Friedlander makes it equally clear that many clerics, particularly senior church leaders who feared that open criticism of the genocide would bring down the wrath of the Nazis on them, remained silent and inactive, except where Jewish converts to Christianity were concerned. In some areasparticularly Croatianationalist clergymen egged on the murder squads with their own brand of religiously inspired anti-Semitism. Pope Pius XII, the subject of an earlier book by Friedlander, does not come out well, but what strikes the reader yet again is the exemplary evenhandedness with which Friedlander weighs the arguments on both sides in an area that has become more controversial than most in recent years.
While it is welcome to have an academic like Evans acknowledgeespecially in the New York Timesthat there are two sides to the Pius debate, I must dissent from Evans' overall judgment. To call Saul Friedlander's treatment of Pius XII "even-handed," is a little like calling Daniel Goldhagen's analysis of wartime German behavior "neutral."
As it happens, Goldhagen does not like Friedlander's new book. One of the genuine virtues of Friedlander's two-volume work is its rejection of Goldhagen's simplistic thesis that Germans were infected with a unique brand of eliminationist anti-Semitism. Friedlander shows that the issue was far more complicated: Ordinary Germans were hardly unique among Europeans at the time. But when it comes to Pius XII, Friedlander, like Goldhagenwho penned a notorious hit piece against Piusis no more reliable a guide. Less angry and overt in his hostility, Friedlander is equally mistaken.
The problems with Friedlander's book are manifold. To begin with, he exhibits only a superficial knowledge of the Holy See's authoritative twelve-volume collection of wartime documents, Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale; and seems completely unaware of the recently released archives of Pius XI's pontificate, which at least one prominent historian, Giovanni Sale, S.J., has said will "erase claims the Church was not a staunch opponent of Nazism, fascism and other forms of totalitarianism." Likewise, he shows little knowledge about Eugenio Pacelli himself, the man who became papal nuncio to Germany (19171929), cardinal secretary of state to Pius XI (19301939), and finally Pope Pius XII (19391958). Whether it is the author's description of Pacelli's character, the statements he made publicly and privately, or his attitude and conduct toward the Jewish community, Friedlander consistently gets Eugenio Pacelli wrongand not only wrong butin critical areasspectacularly wrong.
Friedlander sets the stage for his attack by casually impugning Pacelli's character: "Distant, autocratic and imbued with a sense of his own intellectual and spiritual superiority, Pacelli was as fiercely conservative in politics as in church matters." For these assertions, Friedlander provides no documentation whatsoever. The two best biographies of PacelliIgino Giordani's classic Pius XII (1961) and Andrea Tornielli's just-published Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Petergive no credence to Friedlander's caricature and, in fact, flatly contradict it.
Eugenio Pacelli was actually a very modern churchman: Unlike others in the curia, Pacelli saw some need for the Church to adapt to the contemporary world, not retreat into an imaginary fortress. He was firmly anticommunist, but not so much that he didn't try to negotiate with the Soviet Union in the 1920s, for the good of the Church, long before his involvement with the VaticanGerman Concordat of 1933. He was a diplomat, yes, but also a parish priest who, far from being detached, was personable and friendly; his work with prisoners of war during the First World Warwithout regard to religion, race, or creedwas widely hailed during his day.
Pacelli did retain many traits of old-style European Catholicism, one might argue, but he also understood the importance of America and Western democracy, the fundamental rights and growing status of women and minorities, global communications and travel, modern technology, scientific advances, inter-religious cooperation, religious liberty, and biblical exegesis. His actions and voluminous statements on these subjects, both before and after he became pope, reveal a man who was temperamentally conservative but flexible, protective of religious tradition but open to genuine development, a Catholic through and throughbut emphatically not a reactionary.
As one measure of that fact, note that, other than Sacred Scripture, and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Second Vatican Council quotes Pius XII more than any other source. Had Friedlander conducted serious research about Pacellithe kind for which he is famoushe might have learned something of this; and even come across Samuel Goldstein, grandmaster of the Independent Order of Abraham, who said, after Pacelli was elected pope: "Everybody knows the liberal tendencies of Cardinal Pacelli, and every Jew in this country should honor him, for we all know that the new Pope thinks along the lines of human rights. The Church is to be congratulated in selecting Cardinal Pacelli for its leader" (New York Times, March 3, 1939, p. 5).
Having disparaged Pacelli's character, Friedlander backtracks a bit, only to lower the boom: "There is no specific indication that the pope was anti-Semitic," he writes. "Yet . . . it does not seem that Pius XII carried the Jews in his heart." How, then, are we to explain Pacelli's early intervention, as nuncio in Germany, for Jewish musician Ossip Gabrilowitsch against an anti-Semitic pogrom? Or later, Cardinal Pacelli's assistance to his lifelong Jewish friend, Guido Mendes, whose family he helped immigrate to Palestine, after Mussolini passed his draconian anti-Semitic laws? How are we to account for all those who testified on Pius XII's behalf, during the Vatican's painstaking investigation of his cause for sainthood? Ronald Rychlak, who has examined these depositions, writes: "Between 1967 and 1974, ninety-eight witnesses who knew Pope Pius XII personally gave sworn testimony, under oath, about his life. . . . No less than forty-two witnesses, including five Cardinals, spoke directly of Pius XII's concern for and help given to Jewish people."
Friedlander's treatment of the Vatican's protests against Nazi atrocities omits an amazing amount of information. It was Vatican Radiowhich the young Cardinal Pacelli helped create in 1931that broadcasted Pius XII's most important statements during the war and broke the news of Nazi atrocities in Poland in 1939 and 1940, specifically mentioning "Jews and Poles."
Even after these pronouncements provoked savage reprisalscausing the Holy See to temper its approachthe radio station went right on saying things like: "He who makes a distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God's commands." New research into Vatican Radio's wartime record demonstrates how it inspired the anti-Nazi Resistance, including priest-rescuer Michel Riquet, S.J., who stated: "Pius XII has spoken; Pius XII has condemned . . . throughout those years of horror, when we listened to Radio Vatican and to the Pope's messages, we felt in communion with the Pope, in helping persecuted Jews and in fighting against Nazi violence."
The pope's first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, issued at the very outset of the war, not only defended Poland but also stressed the unity of the human race, explicitly quoting St. Paul's equating of Gentiles and Jews (Col. 3:1011). Pius' first Christmas message called for the protection of racial minorities and condemned "atrocities" committed "against noncombatants and refugees, against old people, women and children"; defended "dignity, freedom and human life"; and declared that actions that violated them call for "vengeance in the sight of God." Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels railed in his diary: "The Pope has made a Christmas speech. Full of bitter, covert attacks against us, against the Reich and National Socialism. All the forces of internationalism are against us. We must break them."
Ignoring all this, Friedlander instead focuses on Pius XII's Christmas address of 1942 and his allocution to the College of Cardinals on June 2, 1943. Both condemned the murder of people based on their "stirpe" (descent, race)an unmistakable condemnation of Hitler's "Final Solution"but Friedlander tries to belittle both. Of the first, he says: "It seems that most German officials . . . missed the portent of the papal address: Ambassador Bergen, who, at the Vatican, followed every detail of Pius' policy, did not refer to the speech at all."
In fact, as Anthony Rhodes documents in The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, German foreign minister Ribbentrop "realized what it meant" and ordered Bergen, on January 24, 1943, to confront Pius XII directly for having posed "a political position against Germany. You are to inform him that in that event Germany does not lack physical means of retaliation." After doing just thatand protesting that the L'Osservatore Romano (the pope's newspaper), "day in [and] day out pours out its poison against Germany"Bergen reported back to Berlin on January 26: "Pacelli is no more sensible to threats than we are."
Moreover, just as people were arrested and even executed for listening to Vatican Radio in Nazi-occupied lands, so too were those who distributed the pope's 1942 Christmas address persecuted. Friedlander does admit that the Reich's Central Security Office viewed the speech as an attack against the Holocaust, but he doesn't quote its ballistic reaction:
"In a manner never known before the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order. . . . God, he says, regards all people and races as worthy of the same consideration. Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews. . . . That this speech is directed exclusively against the New Order in Europe as seen in National Socialism is clear in the Papal statement that mankind owes a debt to 'all who during the war have lost their Fatherland and who, although personally blameless have, simply on account of their nationality and origin, been killed or reduced to utter destitution.' Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."
As for the 1943 address to the cardinals, Friedlander contends: "According to the Vatican editors of the document themselves, the address dealt essentially with the situation of the Poles. Therefore the pope's remarks could have dealt with the Jews only incidentally if at all [Friedlander himself uses italics here], and in this context 'extermination' may have meant the widespread killing of Poles."
A footnote refers to volume 9, page 327, of Actes et Documents, where the editors do not say what Friedlander claims. They label the speech "Le Pape parle en faveur des persécutés""the pope speaks in favor of those who are persecuted." No qualification; no separation between Jews and Gentiles in Poland; the speech was a direct attack against the genocide of any people.
Moreover, the one surviving editor of Actes, Fr. Pierre Blet, has always made it a point to stress the importance of Pius' address to the College of Cardinals, which many of his accusers "are careful not to cite," precisely because he condemned "extermination" based on "nationality or race"language that is difficult to separate from the Holocaust. When Vatican Radio broadcasts the address, Germany and Italy "suppressed this section from all their reports of what the Pope had said," The Tablet of London reported on June 12, 1943.
In other words, the civilized world certainly understood. Articles and editorials in the New York Times have often been cited in Pius' defense, but they don't stand alone. The Italian socialist Ignazio Silone commented: "In certain memorable Christmas messages the Pope has upheld the rights denied and violated by the totalitarian States with a force and nobility that make him the spokesman of the human race." An editorial in the Times of London got the pope's position exactly right: "A study of the words which Pope Pius XII has addressed since his accession in encyclicals and allocutions to the Catholics of various nations leaves no room for doubt. He condemns the worship of force and its concrete manifestation in the suppression of national liberties and in the persecution of the Jewish race" (October 1, 1942, p. 5).
Like others have before him, Friedlander zeroes in on Pius XII's reaction to the Nazi roundup of Rome's Jews on October 16, 1943. Ignoring the scholarship of Michael Tagliacozzothe leading authority on the matter, who has singled out Pius' actions for praiseFriedlander repeats the errors of anti-papal polemicists. The most serious of these concerns a meeting between Pius and Harold Tittmann, the American chargé d'affaires. Relying on a dispatch Tittmann sent to the State Department, dated October 19, 1943 (published in the official series Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers [a.k.a. FRUS], 1943, vol. II [Europe], p. 950), Friedlander points out that this was three days after the Nazi roundup of Rome's Jews; and yet Tittmann's report makes no mention of Pius' having uttered a single word about the fate of the Jews. In a passage dripping with contempt, Friedlander writes:
Whatever Pius's anguish about the deportation from Rome may have been, none of it was hinted at, when he met the American envoy Harold Tittman [sic], on October 19 . . . . According to Tittman's cable to Washington, "The Pope seemed preoccupied that in the absence of sufficient police protection, irresponsible elements (he said it is known that little communist bands are stationed in the environs of Rome at the present time) might commit violence in the city." Tittman added that the pope expressed the wish that "the matter be attended to by the Allies in due time." Finally, the pontiff conveyed to the American diplomat that "the Germans had respected Vatican City and the Holy See's property in Rome, that the German general [Rainer Stahel] commanding in Rome seemed well disposed towards the Vatican." According to Tittman, the pope then added that "he was feeling restriction due to 'the abnormal situation.'" Presumably, the "abnormal situation" meant the deportation of the Jews of Rome.
It all sounds so terribly damning and fits right into Friedlander's theme of Pacelli as the obsessed anticommunist, indifferent to the fate of the Jewsexcept for one minor detail: It isn't true. Tittmann never met Pius XII on October 19; he met him on October 14, two days before the Nazi roundup. We know this because the Vatican keeps exact records of official meetings with the pope, via the Maestro di Camera (master of the chamber); and these records prove the meeting took place on the 14th. Indeed, the day after the meeting, a front-page article in the L'Osservatore Romano stated that Tittmann had been received by the pope, privately, on the 14th.
The editors of Actes et Documents point outin two places (volume VII, p. 678, and volume IX, p. 490)that the correct date of the meeting is the 14th and that the date in FRUS is therefore wrong. Whoever typed up the original report apparently mistook a handwritten "4" for a "9"an error exploited by certain writers looking for anything to hit Pius XII with. Alas, no one at the State Department has ever seen fit to remedy the error or even add an explanatory footnote to the document, which can be read online today [link to document, at State Department's official archived website]. (That communist brigands did try to exploit the situation, and that General Stahelas Tagliacozzo points outactually assisted Pius in helping end the roundupare not side issues, but we focus on the matter at hand.)
The dating error has its own little history and says a great deal about the quality of writers who go after Pius. Back in 1969, Robert Katz, in Black Sabbath, wrote about the alleged PiusTittmann meeting as having taken place on October 19. Thirty years later, John Cornwell repeated the error in his now-discredited Hitler's Pope (1999)though, oddly, Cornwell, citing Katz, says the meeting took place on October 18 (still two days after the roundup), whereas Katz, following FRUS, actually says the 19th. Both Katz and especially Cornwell ridicule Pius for only alluding to the roundup as the "abnormal situation," just as Friedlander does in The Years of Extermination. Indeed, if one reads Katz and Cornwell and Friedlander back to back to back, one might think they were all channeling each other. Here are how all three men end their description of the TittmannPius encounter (assuming it took place after the roundup):
Katz: Tittmann continued: "The Pope said that so far the Germans had respected the Vatican City and the Holy See's property in Rome and that the German General Officer Commanding in Rome (Stahel) seemed well-disposed towards the Vatican. He added, however, that he was feeling restrictions due to the 'abnormal situation.'" By "abnormal situation" the Pope may have meant the deportation of the Jews of Rome. (Black Sabbath, p. 259)
Cornwell: According to Tittmann, Pacelli went on to say that the "Germans had respected Vatican City and the Holy See's property in Rome and that the German General Officer Commanding in Rome (Stahel) seemed well-disposed towards the Vatican." Tittmann informed Washington that Pacelli had added that "he was feeling restriction due to the 'abnormal situation.'" The "abnormal situation" was the deportation of Rome's Jews. (Hitler's Pope, p. 309)
Friedlander (to quote the final words of his passage again): Finally, the pontiff conveyed to the American diplomat that "the Germans had respected Vatican City and the Holy See's property in Rome, that the German general [Stahel] commanding in Rome seemed well disposed towards the Vatican." According to Tittman [sic], the pope then added that "he was feeling restriction due to the 'abnormal situation.'" Presumably, the "abnormal situation" meant the deportation of the Jews of Rome. (The Years of Extermination, pp. 573574)
When Hitler's Pope appeared, Fr. Peter Gumpel, in a major refutation of the book, caught Cornwell's error. And in a subsequent exchange with Ronald Rychlak (Brill's Content, April, 2000), Cornwell made concessions but still defended himself: "I can assure the correspondent [Rychlak] that the disagreement between the date of the Tittmann document and that recorded in the Acts of the Holy See was not one of which I was aware. It is wholly unfair of him to accuse me of intentional deceit in the matter of one small detail in a book with such a vast canvas. If he had read my book with a glimmer of sympathy he would have recognized that again and again I am honest where I am aware of such contradictions."
Cornwell's sense of fairness and devotion to historical accuracy can be judged by the fact that he never corrected the date of the TittmannPius meeting in the paperback edition of Hitler's Pope. In his latest book, The Battle for Rome, Katz also repeats the erroneous date in the main text, but at least has an endnote acknowledging that the date is in question. Friedlander, ignoring the two references to the correct date in Actes, ignoring the record of the meeting in the wartime Osservatore Romano, ignoring Cornwell's concessions in Brill's Content seven years ago, ignoring Katz's footnote (though not his book, which he references), declares the date of the PiusTittmann meeting to be October 19, 1943. Evidently, some anti-Pius legends are just too delicious to give up or fact-check. (And poor Friedlander: He can't even spell Tittmann's name rightit contains two n's, not one.)
Astoundingly, Friedlander fails to mention, much less quote, Tittmann's immensely important posthumous memoirs, Inside the Vatican of Pius XII, in which he clarifies his wartime dispatches, asserts that "the Holy Father chose the better path" and "thereby saved many lives," and predicts "very possibly the future will rate him a saint"a prediction that now appears prophetic.
These are not the only concerns. Relying on the farfetched claims of Susan Zuccotti, Friedlander writes: "Personally he [Pius XII] was not involved in any of the rescue operations throughout Italy. No trace of any written directive has ever surfaced; moreover, from among the main religious personalities involved in assistance to the victims, in Rome or elsewhere, no indication of an oral directive from the Holy See to help the fleeing Jews has ever been mentioned. The rescue activities were mostly spontaneous."
These statements are demonstrably untrue, and it is shocking that Saul Friedlander would so easily accept them. Even Fr. John Morley, a critic of the wartime Church whom Friedlander quotes selectively, affirms: "Official sanction and assistance were given to the lodging of thousands of Jews in the religious institutions of Rome, and all canonical restrictions were suspended. These efforts, no doubt, saved thousands of Jews." Grazia Loparco, professor of church history at the faculty of Educational Sciences Auxilium in Rome, who has extensively researched the matter, concurs: "From the documentation and testimonies emerges evidence of the full support and instruction of Pius XII."
It's not just Catholic sources. Reporting from Vatican City, just after the liberation of Rome, the Palestine Post revealed: "Several thousand refugees, largely Jews, during the weekend left the Papal Palace at Castel Gandolfothe Pope's summer residence near Marinoafter enjoying safety there during the recent terror. Besides Jews, persons of all political creeds who had been endangered were given sanctuary at the Palace. Before leaving the refugees conveyed their gratitude to the Pope through his majordomo" ("Sanctuary in the Vatican," Palestine Post, June 22, 1944, p. 3). No one but Pius XII had the authority to open Castel Gandolfo; those refugees were saved because of his direct intervention.
Yet Friedlander believes the pope did not save a single Jew: Anything good that happened, he argues, really happened without Pius XII's significant involvementeven if the good being achieved was by his own handpicked secretary of state and nuncios, acting and speaking in his name. Had Friedlander wanted to criticize a prominent Italian leader legitimately, he might have chosen the "Catholic" fascist Roberto Farinacci, who wrote furious attacks against Pius during the War, culminating with this outburst: "For a few years, Pope Pius XII has fully espoused the Jewish cause. . . . We never imagined that our Pastor, the Vicar of Christ, the Head of our Church, could one day be regarded as the most influential defender of the interests of the Jewish people" (Regime Fascista, January 17, 1945).
Not content with depicting Pius as silent and passive during the Holocaust, Friedlander repeats the charge that Pius saw Nazism as a bulwark against communisma notion destroyed by volume 5 of the Vatican's wartime collection. Even standard biographies of Franklin Roosevelt note the pope's dramatic and successful intervention for America's lend-lease policy to Russia.
Critics of Pius XII have never been able to explain why this supposedly cautious pontiff maintained relations with the anti-Nazi German resistance until the very last days of the War (not, as Friedlander claims, constituting merely "brief contacts"); why Pius actually approved a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler; and why the pope told his closest aide, Fr. Robert Leiber, "The German opposition must be heard."
Nor have they ever been able to explain why, if Eugenio Pacelli so complied with German designs, Hitler had plans to kidnap, deport, and possibly even murder him. A clue is provided by Richard Breitman, professor of American University and expert on wartime intelligence archives: "In general, the Germans considered the Pope as an enemy. In a telegram, someone suggested to play on his old anti-Communism, to induce him to 'understand' Nazism, and to take him from Rome to the north: the Vatican and Germany would have formed a common front against the USSR, and the Vatican would fall under Berlin's control. But the proposal was rejected because the majority knew that Pius XII would never leave Rome, and that the Vatican was on the side of the Allies. . . . Berlin distrusted the Pope and Vatican because it knew they hid Jews."
Particularly offensive is the way Friedlander attempts to drive a wedge between Pius and his friends, including those who especially admired him: Cardinals Konrad von Preysing (in Germany) and Eugene Tisserant (of France). He completely ignores the powerful testimony of priest-rescuer (and famed theologian) Henri de Lubac on Pius XII's behalf, and he accepts at face value the "Berard Report," a notorious anti-Semitic document written by Vichy's ambassador to the Vatican, a fabrication so foul that de Lubac spends two chapters in his memoirs debunking it.
Britain's wartime minister to the Vatican, Sir Frances D'Arcy Osborne, is also brought in for the prosecution, even though a fair study of his career reveals a man quite generous toward Pius. In the immediate wake of Hochhuth's play, and shortly before his death, Osborne gave his final evaluation of the much-maligned wartime pontiff: "So far from being a cool (which, I suppose, implies cold-blooded and inhumane) diplomatist, Pius XII was the most warmly humane, kind generous, sympathetic (and incidentally saintly) character that it has been my privilege to meet in the course of a long life. I know that his sensitive nature was acutely and incessantly alive to the tragic volume of human suffering caused by the war and, without the slightest doubt, he would have been ready and glad to give his life to redeem humanity of its consequences. And this quite irrespective of nationality or faith." (Letter to the Times of London, May 20, 1963)
It's a shame that, just as the secular and Jewish media are beginning to expressor at least express openness toa more favorable assessment of Pius XII, Saul Friedlander has regurgitated many of the worst anti-Pacelli canards. The world of Holocaust scholarship, which Friedlander has contributed so much to, on matters other than Pius XII, deserves better.
William Doino Jr. writes for Inside the Vatican and published an 80,000-word annotated bibliography on Pius XII in The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (Lexington Books, 2004).