One of the boldest contributions to the history of the Holocaust in the last decade.
Zuccotti (The Holocaust, The French, and the Jews, 1993) presents what will surely be a most controversial study examining the steps Pope Pius XII took to help Italian Jews during the Holocaust—and concluding that his efforts were, in fact, very slight. There has been, of course, a long and very vocal debate about the Pope’s role during the war years. No one disputes that he did not speak out or publicly criticize Hitler for his extermination policy, but the Pope’s defenders claim he wasn’t indifferent or anti-Semitic—he was simply a savvy strategist. Behind the scenes in Italy, these defenders say, Pius XII saved thousands of Jews, and had he angered Hitler with public criticisms he would have been rendered powerless to help anyone. Zuccotti maintains that these defenders are dead wrong: the Pope did nothing to help the Jews. While many Catholics certainly did hide Jews, they were not acting on some secret directive of the Pope. The best the author can say of Pius XII is that he had some inkling that some Italian monks and nuns were harboring Jews, and, though he cautioned them to prudence, he did not stop them. Nor will she let the Pope off the hook on grounds that he was ignorant: in a chapter entitled “What the Pope Knew About the Holocaust,” Zuccotti claims that the Vatican knew “enough about the Jewish genocide to believe and understand that it was a disaster of immense, unprecedented proportions.” The author succeeds remarkably, not only in her thorough research but in her utter evenhandedness: never emotional, never ideological, she simply lays out her case and lets it speak—or remain silent—for itself.