Two very different views on “The Devil’s Historian” in the Jewish press


It is hard to believe that there are people out there who still believe that John Cornwall’s “Hitler’s Pope” is a work with any historical value – but Douglas Bloomfield, writing yesterday in the Jerusalem Post (“Hitler’s pope was no saint”) is a true believer. He writes:

To this day, the Vatican has produced no hard evidence that Pius uttered a word or lifted a finger to help when, on October 16, 1943, the Germans rounded up 1,021 Roman Jews and held them for two days just across the Tiber from the Vatican before sending them to Auschwitz; only 17 returned after the war.

“The cries of the victims were met by Pius with silence,” said Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Benedict told his audience on Sunday [at the Rome Synagogue] that the Church had aided Jews in a “hidden and discreet way” during the Holocaust, but he offered no specifics about Pius’s own involvement.

IF THERE is evidence it lies buried deep in the Vatican vaults. For a decade the Church has been promising to open its wartime records to scholars “soon,” but the latest word is it will be at least another five years. When some prewar archives were opened to a handpicked Catholic scholar, John Cornwell, to write a Vatican-sanctioned biography of Pius, he was shocked by what he found.

Really? John Cornwall’s book is “evidence”? You would be hard pressed to find a serious historian of Pius XII today who would regard it as such, no matter what their race or creed. David Conway, writing in the Jewish Chronicle two weeks ago (“End this misguided criticism of ‘Hitler’s Pope'”), pointed out that even the cover is a lie:

Those who know or care little about that Pope, Pius XII, beyond what they might think they have learned from the cover of Cornwall’s book — or from reading it for that matter — will be likely to agree with those Jewish leaders who have protested at the recent Vatican decision to initiate Pius’s canonisation by recognising him as having exhibited the “heroic virtues” of faith, hope and charity.

Without much further thought, they are likely to accept the claim of Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi that “This is a man… who may not have done enough during the Holocaust to save Jews”. Likewise, they will probably concur with the rabbi of Rome’s synagogue that: “We must remember… the death trains that carried 1,061 Jews on the 16th October 1943 to Auschwitz, while Pius XII remained silent”.

In reality, the photograph adorning the cover of Cornwall’s book was taken in 1927, years before Pius became Pope or the Nazis gained power. It shows him, while still papal nuncio to Germany, leaving a reception for its elected President, Paul von Hindenburg.

Pius had long returned to Rome when the Nazis assumed power in 1933, and he deliberately absented himself when Hitler visited the eternal city in 1938. The only senior Nazi whom Pius ever met was German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, and then only to give him a dressing-down for Nazi atrocities, described at the time by the New York Times thus: “In… burning words… [Pius] came to the defence of Jews in Germany and Poland.”

As for the claim that John Corwall based his “research” on the Vatican Archives material, well – here’s an opinion you can trust does not give an unbiased account, none other than the International President of the Council of Christians and Jews, Servite Father John Pawlikowski (in his review article “Pius XII and the Nazis”):

And the cover photo of Pius was taken in 1927, before he was pope, as he was leaving a reception for Paul von Hindenburg, president of the Weimar Republic. Though the photograph is correctly identified in very small print, it conveys the impression that the pope is visiting the Third Reich.

The exaggerations do not stop there. Far more serious are the unfounded claims about the “secret” materials on which the book supposedly is based. Vatican library records show that Cornwall spent very few hours there and that he was not privy to any materials unavailable to other scholars. In short, there is little really new in Cornwall’s account. And his interpretation of materials is often deeply flawed. His claim, for example, that Pius harbored a deep anti-Semitism is based simplistically on a condemnatory remark Pius made about Jewish bolsheviks. The comment may have been inappropriate, but many Jews of the time said far worse things about Jewish bolsheviks.

Cornwall presents only the evidence that suggests his predetermined view. Nowhere does he seriously engage the major scholarship on Pius that has come from such important Jewish and Christian researchers on the period as Michael Marrus, John Morley, John Conway and Owen Chadwick. Some of their works are listed in Cornwall’s bibliography, but he does not seem to have used them. He does not even acknowledge Marrus’s major work on the subject. Nor does he deal in any comprehensive way with the published Vatican archival material.

It is disturbing to see the attention this book has received from the secular press, including reputable journals. That publisher hype can elevate a work of deeply flawed scholarship to the bestseller list is a serious threat to responsible scholarship. No well-recognized scholar who has studied the relationship between the Vatican and the Holocaust was asked to review this volume in the nonreligious press.

I met Pawlikowski when he was here for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Believe me, he has no particular sympathies for Pius XII and every reason to wish that Pope Benedict would quietly shelve the cause for his sainthood. Nevertheless, he this veteran of Jewish-Catholic relations is strongly of the opinion that Cornwall’s book is bad history, and his claims to “access to secret materials” completely unfounded. I understand that to this day, the Vatican denies that Cornwall ever even entered their Archives.

But his lies will continue to be believed, and this will continue to be a thorn in the side of an otherwise very happy and healthy Jewish Catholic relationship. IMO, you can tell just how positive the current Jewish Catholic relations really are by how hard the devil is trying to de-rail hopes for reconciliation. I don’t know about Hitler’s Pope, but Cornwall is most certainly the Devil’s Historian.

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Two very different views on “The Devil’s Historian” in the Jewish press

  1. matthias

    we live in an era of revisionist historians who enjoy support from the chattering classes. any who disagree with them are treated with disdain

  2. PM

    At a level of wilful pig-ignorance and deliberate dishonesty that exceeds even Cornwell’s, one often hears repeated the Dawkins assertion that ‘Hitler was really a Catholic’. It so happens that Hitler annotated his reading, and there is a recent study based on careful scholarly research of what he did read which shows that Catholic thought played no part in his makeup – unlike the ‘race science’ and vulgarised Darwinism promoted by the ‘men of reason’ of his time. (‘Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life’ by Timothy Ryback)

    As Ben Chifley said of being Irish, to be a Catholic these days is to be malinged by a procession of perjurers, pimps and liars.

  3. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    You will hear nothing bad from re Pius XII, the last real pope worthy of the name.

    Interesting that his critics of the “could have done more” (as if that could not be said of each of us) school learn nothing from the playing out of Mit brennender Sorge (With burning anxiety), the violent Nazi reaction to which impacted a number of people whom I knew personally. The fact is, that while “doing more” in the manner his critics suggest he could have done would have left a better public relations image, about which he cared nothing, it also would have removed him from the world stage to do anything, about which he cared everything.

    When he died I was 8, and when news of it came over the radio (then the fastest way for news to travel) it was disorienting to me and my dad, an adult convert from Methodism, came in my room and we prayed the pater noster (literally, in Latin).

    Little did we know the horror to shortly be visited on the church, a Kristallnacht of staggering proportions by the forces against which Humani generis stands as an eternal Catholic protest and condemnation of what is now presented under the name Catholicism.

  4. Sharon

    One wonders if Mr Bloomfield has ever heard of the Pave the Way Foundation started by Gary Krupp, a Jew. which has unearth some hitherto unknown testimonies in support of Pius XII. For example, this quote:

    The Jews to His Holiness Pius XII

    “The Congress of Delegates of the Italian Israelite communities, held in Rome for the first time after the Liberation, is obliged to pay tribute to Your Holiness, and to express the deepest sense of gratitude from all Jews, for the show of human brotherhood by the Church during the years of persecution and when their lives were put in danger by the Nazi-Fascist atrocities. Many times, sacerdotes endured prison and concentration camps and even sacrificed their lives to aid the Jews. Such proof that the sense of goodness and charity still drives the just has served to lessen the shame of the indignities endured, the torment of the losses millions of human beings suffered. Israel has not finished suffering: the Jews will always remember what the Church, under orders from the Popes, did for them in that dreadful time”.

    Motion approved by the Third Congress of the Italian Israelite Communities held in March 1946 TRANSLATION
    http://www.ptwf.org/Projects/Education/Pope%20Pius%20XII%20Videos.htm

    I wonder if Mr Bloomfield has read this:
    Pius XII’s secret network to help save Jews discovered
    http://www.h2onews.org/english/52-holy-see/22444483-pius-xii%E2%80%99s-secret-network-to-help-save-jews-discovered.html

    I wonder if he has read Rabbi Dalin’s book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope or Ronald Rychlack books Hitler the War and the Pope or Righteous Gentiles?

  5. Kiran

    PE, how is condemnation of Humani Generis, Catholicism?

  6. Kiran

    And while I have a devotion to Ven. Pius XII, I think in many ways, a genuine study of what he said and taught would show him to be, like Newman, an absent Father of Vatican II.

  7. R J Stove

    Cornwell attempted in 2005, I see, a slimy pseudo-recantation of Hitler’s Pope, this pseudo-recantation being if anything more offensive than his original bilge:

    http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=28190

    I wonder, therefore (and pace PM), if even Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are capable of outdoing Cornwell in their “level[s] of wilful pig-ignorance and deliberate dishonesty.”

  8. Absolutely, Kiran. You just have to look at the index of any collected edition of the VII documents to see that Pius XII is cited more often than any other authority save Scripture. He, and not JXXIII, is the true Father of the Council. From this it follows that VII should be interpreted in continuity with his magisterium.

  9. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Humani generis could not have been clearer in its condemnation of the nouvelle theologie, which it discussed in terms of its ideas, not its proponents.

    Re the proponents, the list of those forbidden to teach and/or publish as Catholic pre-council is a virtual who’s who of periti at the council and postconciliar cardinals.

    And what you have now in postconciliar “Catholicism” is nothing of the sort, but the more conservative wing of the nouvelle theologie in charge officially and the more liberal wing still working toward its ends.

    • Kiran

      Actually, if you compare the major documents of Vatican II with the major documents of Pius XII, Dei Verbum with Divino Afflante Spiritu, Mediator Dei with Sacrosanctum Concilium, Mystici Corporis Christi with Lumen Gentium, you see the thought of Pius XII coming to fruition. If you want to read Humani Generis as condemning De Lubac etc…, I suppose, you are free to, except it seems odd coming from a Lutheran, to object to the rediscovery of the Fathers.

      • Yes, I guess the point here is that there was change before and after the Council (blind Freddy could tell you that) but the main question is whether the change contradicted what went before or whether it built upon what went before. Most people are aware of what they would call “contradictions” – PE makes his main argument on this basis – but are not so aware of the continuity. PE agrees with the “progressive” theologians: the 2nd Vatican Council changed everything. We on this blog believe with Pope Benedict that the Council was a reforming council, and that the continuity lies in the authentic reform that took place.

        Part of the problem comes, surely, from the idea that what had been reached in the pre-Council years was “Catholicism” in its perfection. Because pre-Conciliar Catholicsm is taken as the very definition of Catholicism, then ipso facto post-Conciliar Catholicism cannot be “Catholicism”. Actually, PE agrees with the traddies on this point too.

        In fact, as we all know, the Catholic Church is not perfect. It is extremely unlikely that the Church will attain perfection before the Eschaton, so I think we can expect quite a few reformations still to take place. The one we are all hoping for, of course, is the “Reform of the Reform”, but we will wait and see what God has in store for us.

        There were, of course, Catholics who, after the Council of Nicea believed that the Catholic Church had “changed” and hence ceased to be Catholic. Same again at Chalcedon. Seems like it will always happen thus.

        But for us it will always be “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church”, as PE has so admirably put it!

  10. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    de Lubac per se is not the point, though he spent roughly the last half of Pius XII’s papacy forbidden to teach or publish by his own order (Jesuits).

    I was not a Lutheran when I read the documents you mention, I was Catholic, and then trying to remain Catholic despite its new faith.

    The nouvelle theologie was a ressourcement of nothing but Modernism, pure and simple, and Humani generis laid that out quite well.

  11. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    What pleasant fictions you have bought, David.

    This should really be a “reply” rather than a new comment, but that WordPress feature is annoying, since one has to jump all over to see what has been said in the whole conversation, so here it is.

    1. “Awareness” underlies the whole thing here, it appears, and, whether it is “naughty” Catholics, never-been-Catholic non-Catholics, and whoever else, once they become “aware” of “what the Church REALLY teaches” they will of course become Catholic. It may actually happen, David, that some people are quite aware even beyond the variety of what the Church actually teaches “what the Church REALLY teaches”, and on that ground reject it.

    2. There are indeed those for whom post-Trent Catholicism IS Catholicism for all subsequent time. I am not one of those, or rather, was not. Neither was Pius XII. I remember for example the changes he made to the Holy Week liturgy and the fuss that stirred as we altar boys learned the “new” way. Pius XII understood that modern sciences and methodologies can be profitably used by the Church. He also understood that this will have its limits too. Adiaphora is the classic Stoic sense, things which are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad, in themselves, but can be used for either right or wrong, or good or bad. Unfortunately, his openness per se has been used to obscure his clear statements on their right use and thus ignore them and find “continuity” in their any use rather than their right one.

    3. Which is entirely why Ratzinger et al speak of a “continuity” while breaking it, and continue the lie that the Council was only reforming, or as the lie is sometimes put, only pastoral, and that nothing really changed. Which is an assumption, not a conclusion, from which that and nouvelle theologie itself proceeds, in complete harmony with which the RCC proceeds now too.

    4. The “reform of the reform” is a tired echo decades later not of true reform and continuity against excess, but a split within the nouvelle theologie as the more conservative end of the “progressive” spectrum, which we may term from the journal they founded the Communio wing, split from what they thought was the too progressive rest of the movement, which we may term from the movement’s original journal Concilium.

    5. Ratzinger is simply one of the less radical progressives of the Communio wing of the nouvelle theologie (as was the above mentioned de Lubac, along with Balthasar and others), which, while it is distinct from the Concilium wing (eg Chenu, Congar, Kueng, Schillebeeckx, all of my professors, and others), it is a distinction by degree and not at all of fundamental difference.

    6. It is this which allows the Communio wing to be mistaken for any kind of continuity or authentic reform. They are in fact more distinct from the organic unfolding of Catholicism represented by Pius XII than they are from the Concilium crowd, and that both authentic Catholicism and the revisionism of the Communio new theologians are distinct from the Concilium ones is used, and not least by the Communio wing which “won” and now has Church power, to preserve and promote the lie that there is continuity with authentic Catholicism when there is in fact only a milder rejection of it.

  12. Kiran

    PE, you keep repeating that. But the mere fact that you and some people around the time (such as Garrigou-Lagrange) thought Humani Generis condemned De Lubac and Congar, doesn’t make it so. Further, you switch back and forth between two distinct positions, which are contradictory. Either, on the one hand, you agree with Pius read as a reformer which logically lead to the second Vatican Council, or you think Pius XII was an arch-conservative, which lead logically to an affirmation that Tridentine Catholicism (by which I mean the external appearance, not the unchanging faith itself) is Catholicism for all time. The affirmation that Pius XII was a good reformer, but that Vatican II changed it all, is strictly contradictory.

    And might I point out that it was “the conservative wing of nouvelle” that kept true to the classical Christian teaching on Contraception and IVF against every other Christian denomination, that it is the same which has now recovered from the disastrous and malign interpretation of Vatican II that you are advocating, that it was the same which has re-established dialogue with the East, and so on…

    Occasionally I think the critics of the Catholic Church bear a remarkable resemblance to the Black Knight in The Holy Grail saying “I’m invincible! … Come back here and take what’s coming to you! I’ll bite your legs off!”

  13. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Unfortunately, Kiran, the “some people around the time” who thought de Lubac and Congar could not teach or publish under the name Catholic was the Holy See, which in the pontificate of Pius XII took that action against them and others. In the “pontificate” of John Paul II, they became cardinals.

    Further, as I take neither position you describe re Pius XII, it is impossible for me to switch between them. The contradiction happens in the “which leads to” that you append then insist is part of the original.

    • Kiran

      As I have said before, the idea that the Church has deviated from its faith is empirically bizarre given what it, and it alone, has defended against the modern world.

  14. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Oh for Judas in a cassock’s sake, nobody said the RCC was bereft of any orthodoxy or continuity, in fact since becoming Lutheran I would now even say something I would not as a Catholic, that the church of Christ can be found within it, there being Baptism, the Eucharist and Scripture etc still there, despite its grave errors. Once again, you miss the point altogether.

    • Kiran

      No. PE. Once again, you miss mine. “The Roman Catholic Church” if you prefer, or if you prefer “The conservative wing of the nouvelle” has succeeded in defending the ancient faith of the Church in areas where virtually every other claimant has failed or been unclear, on the ordination of women, on contraception, on IVF, on usury… I could go on.

  15. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    That is because the conservative wing of the nouvelle theologie has no issue with those particular points. To extrapolate an across the board argument from that is, to borrow your term, bizarre.

    • Kiran

      But to ignore the achievement is also bizarre. It is like saying that this or that group did not really have a problem with maintaining two wills, but really, they were heretics on really important matters. It is bizarre precisely because it is not convenient to keep to the ancient faith on these matters.

      And as someone greater than me said all those many years ago, securus judicat orbis terrarum, for better or for worse. When the Church is attacked, it is Rome that is attacked. When the Church is sought, it is Rome that is sought.

  16. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Oh for God’s sake, not even in the Reformation was EVERYTHING at stake. Even pre-Council, we (RCC kids) were taught that some of the true faith (read, Catholicism) persists in the churches of the Reformation in those parts of the true faith (read, Catholicism) which they do not deny, by which they are yet bound to the Church (read, Catholic Church) in an invisible way, therefore not outside it and salvation is possible to them. It is not at all bizarre that a body could be right on some important things yet wrong on others, happens all the time, it is not seen here because the agenda is to maintain that did not happen within the same body.

    • Kiran

      I didn’t say EVERYTHING was at stake, and I explicitly have said before that I do not doubt nor judge of the salvation of protestants. That is not my point. What is bizarre is that something which is challenged by the world should be affirmed by the Church (read Roman Catholicism), but that she should waver on something not so challenged.

  17. R J Stove

    Good point, Mr Maher, about pre-Vatican II teachings by Catholicism concerning non-Catholic groups. Pius XI is supposed to have said about Protestant Churches, “Stones cut from gold-bearing rock themselves bear gold.” And did not Pius XII excommunicate Fr Leonard Feeney specifically for saying that nobody could be assured of salvation except water-baptised Catholics?

  18. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Gott hilf mir seitlich! I missed the email where the world provides our clues as to the “true church”. Nor do I find it at all remarkable that one may consider a person or other entity right on some things and wrong on others. Aber “not so challenged” — have you listened to the world lately at all, or for that matter the church, wherein the four matters you mentioned are quietly ignored as either awaiting change or just one of those things you go along with an shut up about.

    You’re quite right Herr Stove, Pius XII did excommunicate Feeney, in 1953, and his own order, the by-God Jesuits, had already tossed him out, in 1949. Feeney demonstrates that opposition to Vatican II per se is no more a touchstone of rightness than opposition to the per se, whose terms of opposition must be understood.

    A Feeneyite community exists in MA, which observes the Rule of St Benedict and the Tridentine Mass, IMHO a disgrace to both and a source of the kind of misunderstanding just mentioned.

    Oddly, well not oddly at all, Feeney was in fact reconciled to the Roman church in 1972 during the papacy of miserable Paul VI, author of humanae vitae, and WITHOUT recantation.

    • Kiran

      Well, thus thought Augustine. I have listened to both the world and the Church recently, Terry. And I don’t know what planet you are living on. From some of your comments, I suspect it is very different from mine, but in recent times, the Pope has come under attack precisely for standing up on all of those points.

  19. R J Stove

    I didn’t know that about Fr Feeney’s reconciliation, Mr Maher. Fortunately I’ve never seen any instance of the Feeneyites making serious headway here in Melbourne, or indeed elsewhere in Australia. But I gather from acquaintances that in America – am I right in thinking that Mr Maher lives in the States? – they infiltrate traditional parishes quite shamelessly, and even the toughest men of (say) the SSPX have to warn the faithful against such infiltration. (As indeed Evelyn Waugh did.)

  20. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Yes, I live in Omaha NE. I should hope Feeneyites would not make serious headway anywhere. I have not heard of their corrupting traditional parishes, but I can see why they would make an obvious target. We do not have an SSPX parish here — though there is a Thuc-line place just up the road from me — so I don’t hear any scuttlebutt about it, which is hardly to say it isn’t happening.

    The SSPX site has four clear articles contra Feeneyism: http://www.sspx.org/articles_index.htm#feeneyism

    Maybe someday I will come to Melbourne, however, as our host declined to spring for airfare to a blogger party a year or two ago and it is beyond my means — not to mention I don’t think he liked my idea to ask Catherine Deveny to be my date — it appears that someday will wait.

    As it is, I am far more concerned by the shameless infiltration — if one can call sanctioned and enforced presence infiltration — of the nouvelle theologie under the guise of “Catholicism” in regular parishes than anything the Feeneyites may be doing.

  21. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    PS — there is a parish of the miserable FSSP but, as they like the later motu are a mendacious device of duplicity betraying the basis of the very thing they supposedly uphold, I omit them from consideration altogether.

    • Kiran

      Terry, in everything you write, I see a great lack of charity, an eagerness to judge things from a different communion, and tell us what you do, an unwillingness to recognize the good in others, even where you disagree.

      I must say, I do hope you do not go around defending the things we have in common, because your argument for whatever you argue for pushes me even against my will, against lending any credence to what you say. Every time I read your arguments, such as they are, the very lack of anything approaching charity in your words (not to mention that all your words take the form “Terry says” to which the natural response would be “Who cares?”) convinces me that whatever you are arguing against is right.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        Perhaps you would have better luck to read a text as text, rather than as a window into the soul or psyche of the author.

        However, that approach is rather typical of the postconciliar mentality, which, knowing it is right, and knowing that everyone would agree with them if they only understood, cannot consider arguments to the contrary to have merit worth considering and must therefore proceed from some darkness of the mind or spirit of the author

        • Kiran

          Right. When you present an argument to the contrary, you can speak of that. But so far all I have seen are statements of the form “Thus says Terry Maher”.