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The Vatican and World War II
The Second World War involved much more than the production of weapons, the deployment of military forces, and the clash of enemies on land, at sea, and in the air. Nations maneuvered to preserve their interests on diplomatic battlefields as well, and even the Roman Catholic Church -- with its extensive extra-national presence around the globe -- had no choice but to participate in the jousting of the earthly realm, if only to maintain its neutrality.
In most books dealing with the Vatican during World War II, the recurring thread is that of the Holy See's relationship with Hitler's Germany and in particular the Vatican's knowledge of and response to the Holocaust. Almost every account agrees that the Pope's public pronouncements about the Holocaust during the war amount to little more than a few vague generalities couched in ambiguous language, notably a single sentence in his twenty-six-page Christmas message of 1942. This, however, along with the Pope's private statements and his personal attitude, prove open to many shades of interpretation by a parade of authors with their own perspectives and opinions.
Perhaps the most charitable interpretation advanced by scholars of the Vatican's public stance during the war is that by its strict and uncompromising neutrality it avoided taking hopeless steps which would have stripped the Holy See of all power to influence events and indeed would have merely lengthened the lists of Hitler's victims.
On the other hand, the most damning interpretation of events, as registered by more than one author, charges the Vatican intentionally turned a blind eye to the destruction of the Jews, Gypsies, and others in order that the Church would be certain to retain its international position in the event of a German victory, or even to help preserve a strong and unified Germany as a bulwark against Bolshevism.
At this point it's important to emphasize that this survey makes no judgment about the issues or the varying interpretations of them. Rather, this is merely a listing of the most important and accessible titles relating to the history of the Vatican's place in the global conflagration of the Second World War. Where notes appear, they are simply thumbnail descriptions of the words and conclusions of the authors themselves. Just as the authors investigated the evidence and evaluated the facts to draw their own conclusions, so that same exercise is left to readers.
Alvarez, David and Robert A. Graham. Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage against the Vatican, 1939-1945. London: Frank Cass and Company, 1997
Blet, Pierre. Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican. Paulist Press, 1999
Chadwick, Owen. Britain and the Vatican during the Second World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
Cornwell, John. Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. New York: Viking, 1999
Falconi, Carlo. The Silence of Pius XII. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1970
Friedlander, Saul. Pius XII and the Third Reich: A Documentation. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980
Graham, Robert A. The Vatican and Communism in World War II: What Really Happened?. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996
Lapide, Pinchas E. The Last Three Popes and the Jews. New York: Hawthorne Books, 1967
Lewy, Guenter. The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964
Morley, John F. Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust, 1939-1943. New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1980
Rhodes, Anthony. The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, 1922-1945. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973
Scholder, Klaus. The Churches and the Third Reich. London: 1987, 1988 (Two volumes)
Some of these titles are still in print while others are not. Even the out-of-print items are fairly accessible and can be tracked down through secondhand dealers without too much difficulty.
Reviewed 12 December 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone
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