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The Holocaust History Project.

The Response of the Catholic Church


I am a student at Case Western Reserve University studying the Holocaust and a Catholic. I am interested in finding any resources that might offer a review or proclamation of the Catholic Church's response (or lack of) about the Holocaust. Thanks for you help.

Harry Mazal answers:

I am one of the persons in The Holocaust History Project that responds to such questions. I will try to provide some resources that you might find useful.

This is a very touchy subject. It is not easy to be objective; moreso that there is considerable conflict amongst historians regarding the Vatican's response to the Holocaust. You might want to go to your university library and look for a very recent article appearing in:

Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall 1998, Published by Oxford University Press in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The article is entitled:

"Pope Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Holy War," by Michael Phayer pp. 233-256:

Michael Phayer teaches German and Holocaust History at Marquette University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Munich in 1968. Professor Phayer has published a number of articles relating to the Catholic Church and the Holocaust, and earned the Rabbi Joseph L. Baron Faculty Achivement Award in 1994. His latest book, co-authored with Eva Fleischner is entitled Cries in the Night: Women Who Challenged the Holocaust (Sheed & Ward, 1997). He is currently writing a history of the Catholic Church and the Holocaust from 1930 to 1965."

Dr. Phayer's article is excellent, but painful to read. A few brief excerpts follow:

Questions about Pius XII's moral leadership arose shortly after his death in 1958. These concerns [began]... with statements by German bishops at the time of the sensational Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and on the eve of the Second Vatican Council in 1960. Julius Doepfner, cardinal of Munich, spoke of regrettable decisions that had been made by church leaders during the Nazi era and German bishops collectively apologized for the 'inhimane extermi- nation of the Jewish people.'

What is troubling about Pius's preocuipation with diplomacy is that Jews would continue to be murdered as peace negotiations were underway. [Note: the author refers to peace negotiations undertaken by the German ambassador to the Vatican between 1942 and 1944 - HWM]. Pius knew this, of course. A high-ranking official in the Papal Secretariat of State, Monsignor Domenica Tardini, told the German ambassador that the United States would probably object to Weizsaecker's (latest) proposal for negotiations because of the 'Jewish matter.'

The difficulty with Pius's inadvertence to the Holocaust lies in the fact that Catholics in high and low stations kept reminding him of it. The most persistent of these was Konrad Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, who wrote to Pius thirteen times in fifteen months during the most active period of the Holocaust. When Pius finally responded to his friend from the Weimar era, it was not the fate of the Jews but the fate of Christendom and of the Church that preoccupied him.

While the Vatican showed keen interest in getting the perpetrators of the Holocaust freed, and, as we have seen, had to be restrained by its trusted envoy Bishop Muench, it showed little or no interest in the question of restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

As did most Italians, Pope Pius sought to save native Italian Jews during the Holocaust, but he did not allow the Jewish tragedy to upset his world vision which remained fixed on his church and the Marxist danger.

If the Holocaust was not sufficient cause for Pius to break with Germany during the war, it is not surprising that antisemitism, restitution, and strict justice for war criminals would not be his priorities during the Cold War.

I have hundreds of books and articles on the subject. A small sampling of titles from my private library follows:

  • The Holy See and the War in Europe Volume I (others in publication?)
    Blet, Pierre et al, editors
    Translated by Gerard Noel
    c. 1965, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
    L.O.C 68-26548

  • German Catholics and Hitler's Wars
    Zahn, Gordon
    c. 1962, Sheed & Ward
    L.O.C. 62-9102

  • The Jesuits and the Third Reich
    Lapomarda, Vincent A.
    c. 1989, The Edwin Mellen Press
    ISBN 0-88946-828-1

  • Christianity and the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry
    Herczl, Moshe Y.
    Translated by Joel Lerner
    c. 1993, New York University Press
    ISBN 0-8147-3503-7

  • The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich: Facts and Documents Translated from the German
    (no author)
    c. 1940. London: Burns Oates

  • Pius XII and the Third Reich: A Documentation
    Friedlander, Saul
    c. 1966, Alfreed a Knopf
    L.O.C. 66-10029

  • The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators (1922-1945)
    Rhodes, Anthony
    c.1973, Holt, Rinehart and Winston
    ISBN 0-03-007736-2

  • Three Popes and the Jews
    Lapide, Pinhas
    c. 1967, Hawthorn Books
    L.O.C. 67-11768

  • Vatican Policy in the Second World War
    Lehmann, L.H.
    c. 1946, Agora Press

  • The Pope's Jews
    Waagenaar, Sam
    c. 1974, Library Press
    ISBN 0-912050-49-7

  • Weimar and the Vatican: 1919-1933
    Stehlin, Stewart A.
    c. 1983, Princeton University Press
    ISBN 0-691-05399-5

  • The Anguish of the Jews
    Flannery, Edward H.
    c. 1985, Paulist Press
    ISBN 0-8091-2702-4

  • Vatican Journal: 1921-1954
    McCormick, Anne O'Hare
    c. 1957, Farrar, Straus & Cudahy
    L.O.C. 57-11490

  • While the Pope Kept Silent
    Ramati, Alexander
    c. 1978, George Allen & Unwin
    ISBN 0-04-940054-1

The above titles should give you a balanced view of what has been written about the subject. Quite possibly my other colleagues at The Holocaust History Project will have other suggestions.

Good luck on your project.

Harry W. Mazal OBE


I have been reading other your responses to other questions regarding the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust. I am an Australian university student who has practically gone grey looking for the Article you mentioned: "Pope Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Holy War," by Michael Phayer! The serial you mentioned does not appear to be available here.

Would you know if it is available online?

Further, I am hoping for some academic advice. There appears to be considerable backlash from the Chuch over John Cornwell's book "Hitler's Pope." Is this because it touched a nerve or rather, because as some catholic writers have implied, Cornwell is somewhat obsessed by Pius XII?

Any information would be greatly appriciated.

Harry W. Mazal OBE responds:

Thank you for your recent message addressed to our Project.

I am one of the volunteers who responds to questions from our readers.

It is possible that other colleagues of mine will also respond to your query.

"Pope Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Holy War" is published, as our response states, in:

Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall 1998, Published by Oxford University Press in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The journal mentioned above can be found in most major libraries around the world. Their articles are available in abstract form on the Internet:


Click on "Holocaust and Genocide Studies - Online Services"

You might ask them for a reprint of that article if you need a complete copy of the article. Because it is copyrighted we cannot send you a copy. Their e-mail address is:


The polemics surrounding John Cornwell's book are still quite intense. My personal opinion is that it brings out several points that are quite valid, but until the Vatican allows outsiders to see their archives it will be difficult to arrive at any definite conclusions on some of the disagreements and discrepancies. With the recent process towards the canonization of Pius XII the mysteries may remain unsolved for quite some time.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

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