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.