FaithWorld

Vatican rejects rabbi’s criticism of Pius XII’s Holocaust record

L’Osservatore Romano, 9 Oct 2008, with editorial in far left columnThe Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has lost no time in rejecting the criticism of Pope Pius XII’s Holocaust record made by Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the Haifa Chief Rabbi who addressed a synod of bishops on Tuesday. Editor-in-chief Gian Maria Vian wrote a front-page editorial today saying charges that he turned a blind eye to the Nazi massacre of European Jews was a “black legend” not backed up by history.

“He confronted the wartime tragedy like no leader of his time did. Even when faced with the monstrous persecution of the Jews [he worked] in a suffered silence which is understandable and whose aim was an efficient endeavor of charity and undeniable help,” Vian wrote in the editorial “In memoria di Pio XII” (In Memory Of Pius XII).

Vian said Pius had been unfairly accused of being insensitive to the Holocaust and even pro-Nazi. He has also been unfairly contrasted with his successor, the popular Pope John XXIII. The Church had the duty, he said, to uphold the memory of Pius XII and his service to it. Read the whole news story here.

Vian’s defence of the wartime pope came after a biographer of Pius, Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli, rapped Cohen for his “totally inappropriate” comments. Is all this a drumroll for an announcement by Pope Benedict during the mass in Pius’s memory on Thursday?

UPDATE: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield at Beliefnet is calling this mass Benedict’s “Yom Kippur Mass” because it comes just before the Jewish holy day. He also gives it an interesting  and positive theological interpretation based on Yom Kippur — “On a day which celebrates that we can stand before God and get a second chance, no matter what we have done, Catholics and Jews have the opportunity to engage in a more honest dialogue than ever before …”

Pius XII biographer raps rabbi for recalling Holocaust role

Cover of Tornielli’s book Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, A Man on the Throne of PeterA leading Italian biographer of Pope Pius XII has sharply criticised Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen for recalling the controversy about the pope’s role in the Holocaust during an unprecedented address to a synod of Roman Catholic bishops at the Vatican. Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican correspondent of the newspaper Il Giornale who has written four books defending the wartime pope, said no cardinal could have ever spoken that way at a major Jewish forum in Jerusalem.

Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, was the first Jew to address such a synod. In unscripted remarks, he told the bishops that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly.” Defenders of Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, say he did he did his utmost to help Jews during the Holocaust; Pope Benedict repeated this recently in his first public statement on his predecessor. But his critics fault Pius for not publicly challenging the Nazis by denouncing the Holocaust.

Tornielli focused special attention on Cohen’s statement in a Reuters interview prior to his Andrea Torniellisynod speech. The 80-year old rabbi told our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella that he might not have attended the synod if he had known in advance that Pius would be honoured there. The synod will mark the 50th anniversary of his death in 1958 with a special mass on Thursday at which Benedict may announce that Pius will soon be beatified. Tornielli wrote on his blog Sacri Palazzi (Sacred Palaces):

Jews remind Vatican of darker side of Pius XII anniversary

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen in Rome, 6 Oct 2008/Alessandro BianchiJust as the Vatican is gearing up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, two Jews have spoken out to recall the darker side of his papacy. Their tone is neither shrill nor polemical, unlike many articles and books that have appeared over the years accusing Pius of being “Hitler’s Pope” and not doing enough to save Jews from the Holocaust. They do not seem keen to pick an argument with the Vatican just as it is preparing to hold what may be its most open defence of the controversial pontiff. But they raise difficult questions that remain even after Pope Benedict insisted his predecessor “spared no effort” to save Jews during World War Two.

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (photo above), the first Jew to address a Vatican synod, told the Roman Catholic bishops there that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly. We cannot forgive and forget it and we hope that you understand.”

The chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, 80, was less diplomatic a few hours earlier in an interview with our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella: “We feel that the late pope (Pius) should have Cover of Hitler’s Pope, a critical study of Pius XII by John Cornwellspoken up much more strongly than he did … He may have helped in secrecy many of the victims and many of the refugees but the question is ‘could he have raised his voice and would it have helped or not?’ …

First rabbis since Holocaust ordained in Poland

New rabbis read Torah at Chabad Yeshiva in Warsaw, 30 June 2008/Kacper Pempel“The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win,” said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. “Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world,” he said. “People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis … We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow.”

Read our feature “Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis” here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today’s Poles. “I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted,” he said.

Fear, by Jan GrossJan Gross’s book Fear argues that anti-Semitism remained prevalent in Poland under the communist regime after 1945. In a sign of the continued sensitivity of the subject in Poland, state prosecutors investigated whether the book had slandered the Polish nation but finally decided not to press charges.