A defense of the pope who got a bad rap for his public silence on Jewish persecution in Rome during World War II.
While reading prolific English writer Thomas’ (Operation Exodus: From the Nazi Death Camps to the Promised Land, 2010, etc.) dramatized account of Pius XII’s backroom dealing to help the Jews, readers come away with the impression that the new pope was endowed with a mission by the moribund Pius XI on his deathbed to campaign against anti-Semitism and subsequently pursued little else during the duration of the war. Yet Pius XII deliberately resolved that “there must be no public denunciation by the church” of Nazi persecution, supposedly to work more effectively behind the scenes for Jews to escape and also to sustain the tenuous Vatican neutrality. In his episodic, fast-paced narrative, Thomas cuts among scenes involving an array of international characters who were agitating against the Nazis during the war years, such as the leaders of Rome’s ancient Jewish ghetto, British and American diplomats, members of the anti-fascist resistance, spies and helpful Vatican priests. Events move at a breakneck pace, from Mussolini’s embrace of Nazi Germany, bombing by the Americans, the Abwehr director Wilhelm Canaris’ courting of the pope for a secret assassination plot of Hitler, and Hitler’s own crazy plot to abduct the pope. The plot culminated in the extortion of gold from the Jewish community and the horrific Gestapo roundup of thousands of Jews in October 1943. And still the pope remained silent. Thomas offers secondhand accounts such as by Pius’ devoted Bavarian housekeeper Sister Pascalina Lehnert, and though many illustrious voices have defended the pope’s record, it is not all entirely convincing.
A valiant but not fully successful attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of “Hitler’s pope.”