In his most recent book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners , Goldhagen asserted that blame for the Holocaust should be placed on ordinary Germans and their unique brand of anti–Semitism. When contemporary historians from both sides of the Atlantic challenged him on this point, he eventually conceded that he had underestimated how factors other than anti–Semitism helped lead to the Third Reich’s crimes. “I skirted over some of this history a little too quickly,” he said. He has skirted again.
Goldhagen’s article is based on no original historical research. It is entirely dependent on secondary sources that are written in English. This contributes to what can only be judged an inexcusable number of errors, small and large. Several of the dates he provides relating to the establishment of European ghettos are wrong (one by more than fifty years). He is also wrong (by three decades) about the beginning of the process for Pius XII’s beatification, and he is wrong about the date that the so–called “Hidden Encyclical” was made public. He is wrong in calling the concordat with the Holy See “Nazi Germany’s first international treaty.” He is wrong to say that the Belgian Catholic Church was silent; it was one of the first national churches to speak out against Nazi racial theories. He is way off base to suggest that German Cardinals Michael von Faulhaber and Clement August von Galen were insensitive to or silent about Jewish suffering. Goldhagen says that Pius XII “clearly failed to support” the protest of the French bishops, when, in fact, he actually had it rebroadcast on Vatican Radio for six consecutive days. He charges that Pius XII never reproached or punished Franciscan friar Miroslav Filopovic–Majstorovic for his evil actions in Croatia, when, actually, the so–called “Brother Satan” was tried, laicized, and expelled from the Franciscan order before the war even ended (in fact, before most of his serious wrongdoing). Goldhagen also misidentifies the role of Vatican official Peter Gumpel (who is the relator or judge, not the postulator or promoter, of Pius XII’s cause for sainthood), and he is wrong to say that Gumpel was designated by the Vatican to represent it at a meeting with the recently disbanded Catholic–Jewish study group. He seems unaware that Catholic scholars on that committee disassociated themselves from statements issued by their Jewish counterparts following its collapse. He identifies the much–admired king of Denmark during the war as Christian II; it was Christian X. He refers to Pope Pius XI as having been Cardinal Secretary of State; it was actually his successor Pope Pius XII.
A few embarrassments like this might be accounted for by positing carelessness. However, Goldhagen’s graver errors—each and every one of which cuts against Catholics and the Pope—reveal something much more troubling at work in his essay.
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