Based on newly opened Vatican archives, a book about Pope Pius XII and his actions during World War II, including how he responded to the Holocaust, by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Pope and Mussolini.
The Pope at War comes after a Brown University scholar plowed through thousands of pages of Vatican documents newly released by Pope Francis, and it helps us sort out the question of whether the pontiff was a silent collaborator with the dictators or a quiet conspirator against them — and whether by his silence he promoted antisemitism or whether by his actions he mounted a subtle campaign to aid the Jews at the hour of their greatest peril...The answer, David I. Kertzer tells us in nearly 500 pages of spellbinding detail, is far more nuanced than the usual narrative, with the result that his book is far more interesting, far more revelatory, and far more relevant to today’s struggles than the many scores of earlier volumes that set out to resolve one of history’s most persistent and perplexing questions...Kertzer shows us, through documents and prodigious outside research, how Pius XI swiftly developed a strategy for addressing an embattled continent at a time of military and moral conflict: Stay steady, stay quiet, focus on matters of faith rather than matters of state, emphasize the uplifting virtues of peace as a 'sublime Heavenly gift that is the desire of all good souls' and as the 'fruit of charity and justice'...The pope’s difficulties multiplied with the German invasion of Russia, as he naturally felt rancor for the godless Communist country but wondered, 'If I were to talk about Bolshevism — and I would be very ready to do so — should I then say nothing about Nazism?'...It is such tortured, tortuous handwringing that led to no action at all at a time when silence was complicity and when not to act was in fact to act decisively...It was a start, though Kertzer tells us that that statement was a 'well-buried passage' in a long, 24-page speech and that 'the pope nowhere mentioned either Nazis or Jews'...It was one of the missed opportunities of the ages, and while it may not have caused the calamity of the rage and ravages of the dictators and the industrialized death of the Holocaust, it did nothing to impede them.
The role Pope Pius XII played during World War II has long been a subject of controversy...Under great pressure to align himself with the Allies or Axis powers, he chose silence and diplomatic neutrality...Some saw him as a heroic champion of the oppressed...Others thought he turned a blind eye to the killing of Jews and other vulnerable populations and did not use his moral authority to work for peace...Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David I. Kertzer explores the truth of how Pius XII handled this situation with great skill, combining extraordinary documentation and elegant writing, in The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler...The Vatican archives of this period were sealed when Pius XII died in 1958, but they became available to researchers in March 2020...This book is based on many sources but is the first to take advantage of these previously unexplored materials...Pius XII was also aware that, to many people, he failed to provide courageous moral leadership, which Kertzer outlines in gripping detail in his outstanding book.
In this meticulously researched book, historian Kertzer, who has written extensively on modern papal history, makes good use of newly opened wartime archives, sealed since Pius XII’s death in 1958...The evidence of Pius’ silence in the face of repeated calls to stop the atrocities against the Jews and others by the Nazis and Fascists is absolutely damning...When Pius XI died in February 1939, the ever cautious, scholarly, German-speaking Pacelli became pope—and the best ally the two dictators could hope for. Throughout World War II, he maintained a timorous disposition in the face of their increasing aggression—Kertzer reminds us that 'Hitler had long viewed the Duce as his role model'—despite the piles of documentation that reveal how he was frequently informed of the brutalities committed by the Nazis and their willing collaborators...The pope, casting himself as a peacemaker, managed to play his cards skillfully even when the Allies invaded and took pains not to bomb the Vatican...As a result, the institution of the Catholic Church emerged largely unscathed from the war, effectively scrubbing clean its Fascist and Nazi collaboration...Kertzer is to be commended for bringing it all to light in page-turning fashion...A riveting history and valuable lesson for our time about the perils of neutrality.