Jewish Knight Defends Pius XII
By Gary Krupp
The answer to this question lies in a series of events that moved our foundation to decide to confront this controversial subject and break the 47 – year old academic “log jam”. Being knighted to a Pontifical knighthood by first Pope John Paul II and then raised in rank by Pope Benedict XVI enables me to have certain levels of trust and access that very few have. My wife and I decided that we should use these unusual honors to enhance relations between Jews and Catholics and so we formed Pave the Way Foundation (PTWF). We have now expanded our work to all religions by identifying non theological obstacles between the faiths and initiating historic gestures. These projects create a fertile environment in which to move the religious leaders to act to end the malevolent use of religion for private agendas. Pius XII started 4 years ago with a request for help.
Meredith, and I were having lunch with the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco in 2006. The Nuncio asked if we could intercede to address a very disturbing problem. He said the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem had placed a very hurtful and historically incorrect placard of remarks next to its portrait of Pope Pius XII.
Honestly, I grew up hating Pius XII, believing him to be an anti-Semite and a Nazi collaborator. So my wife and I shrugged off this request and felt we did not want to get involved. But then providence intervened.
Upon our return to New York we received a phone call from our friend, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik. Joe asked if we would help a Jewish author and former Washington Post correspondent, Dan Kurzman, gain access in the Vatican for his research on a book he was writing on Pope Pius XII. I told him that the mission of PTWF is to remove obstacles between the faiths and that I did not want to involve us in any activity that would negatively impact Catholic-Jewish relations. He asked us to meet with Mr. Kurzman anyway and we agreed to at least hear what he had to say.
On April 7, 2006 we met with Dan. He told us that he was writing a book about the secret plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII, to kill the Curia and to seize the Vatican. I asked him how could it be possible that a collaborator and ally of Hitler, Pius XII, would be the target of such a plan. He explained that the exact opposite was true.
Dan said his information was based on his research and a long interview with SS General Karl Wolff who had served as Chief of Personal Staff to the Reichsführer-SS (Heinrich Himmler) and SS Liaison Officer to Hitler. He had interviewed General Karl Wolff just after his release from prison in 1974.
This information about Pius XII was stunning. We are talking about the person who has been called “Hitler’s Pope”. This is the person about whom so many damning books have been written regarding his silence and cold-hearted lack of concern with Jewish suffering during World War II. This was what we were taught. We hated to even hear his name.
Then I called an historian friend at Yad Vashem and was told “Well, we heard something about this Plot to kill Pius but it only shows that Pacelli (Pius) was simply too frightened to act.” Somehow, through twisted logic, this assumption further supported their firm belief that the Pope supported Hitler. Something was dreadfully wrong here.
I then received a telephone call from the Vatican’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. He told me that he thought I should meet with Sister Margherita Marchione in New Jersey.
Meredith and I drove to Sister Margehrita’s community in Morristown, NJ. We met with this engaging then 82-year-old nun who has written over 10 books in defense of Pope Pius XII. Through this meeting, my eyes were opened to a reality that was literally shocking. My emotions went from shock to anger. We discovered that we have been deceived by those whom we trusted for historical accuracy – that is, the scholars and historians.
As we delved further into the history of this papacy and the secret works of Pacelli, examining real documents and recording eyewitness testimony, we came to the conclusion that this subject had been totally mishandled. How did this happen and who was to blame?
It started with the fictitious play by Rolf Hochhuth called The Deputy. Following that, a flurry of books were written supporting negative theories of this papacy and era. We later discovered absolute proof that this play and its impact was a well-crafted plan called “Seat Twelve” hatched and implemented by the KGB against the Catholic Church. When defenders came to reestablish the good name of Pacelli, literally no one read these books, and so this “black legend” has lasted since 1963 and to us it appeared that this was an “academic logjam” that would never be resolved.
The negativity was further fueled by one nagging question: Why won’t the Vatican open the archives of the war years and the papacy of Pope Pius XII? The reason is that the Archives just completed the cataloguing of Pope Pius XI in 2007 and the 16 million documents of Pius XII are not catalogued yet. Pope Benedict XVI has ordered the number of archivists cataloguing these documents to be increased from three to twenty to hasten the opening. The Vatican Archives will be opened the moment the cataloguing has been completed.
In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI ordered the early opening of the archives of Pope Pius XI. Why? Because the Vatican had finally completed the cataloging and now scholars and historians could come and study at least 65% of Pacelli’s life as Nuncio to Germany and as Secretary of State under Pius XI, his predecessor. To my shock, I learned that the critics and institutions had not bothered to come to these open archives.
As we moved our investigation further, Monsignor Robert Sarno, of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, suggested that I meet with Father Peter Gumpel, Relator (High Judge) to the Cause of Pius XII and Father Paolo Molinari, Postulator to the Cause. I had the most revealing first meeting with Fr. Peter. He recommended that I contact William Doino, Dimitri Cavalli, and Professor Ronald Rychlak for more help. After contacting these scholarly experts and learning of their extraordinary personal research, I personally became committed to righting this terrible wrong.
After almost two years of private research, I made a case to the Board of Directors at PTWF and was given the “ok” to take on this project.
Not all board members were happy with this decision, but they agreed with the project, since we are simply retrieving documents and testimonies that could only help the legitimate historians. We did this with the full knowledge that we were opening a beehive of resentment, anger and painfully proving that the long held beliefs of most Catholics and Jews were simply wrong. Yet we knew that, in the furtherance of the mission of PTWF, we had no choice. PTWF’s goal and mission is to move to eliminate obstacles between the faiths, and this obstacle impacts over one billion people.
After personally conducting video interviews (which can all be viewed with original documents on our website), we were convinced that we were 100% correct in our assessment of Pacelli’s secret actions to save more Jews than all of the world’s political and religious leaders of the period combined. There are perhaps 3 million Jews who are alive today because of his secret but direct intervention.
Personally, as a Jew, I was determined to make this history right, especially considering how Eugenio Pacelli had been treated after his death by the very people he acted in so many ways to save. This we consider a Jewish responsibility, not an attempt to defend the Roman Catholic Church.
In Judaism, one of the most important obligations is that of charity. According to Maimonides, one of the highest levels of charity is “anonymous”, where the recipient never became aware of who helped him. In the case of Pacelli, his anonymous charity is the very tool his critics have used to strip him of any credit for the acts he ordered by so many nuncios and priests, who were actually following papal instructions through a verbal chain of command. Those critics allowed and encouraged every negative accusation against Pacelli to endure. This is a “Shonda,” a Jewish shame, which I am determined to correct.
Gary Krupp is a Papal Knight – the seventh Jew in history to receive this title. Last month, Gary Krupp had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI in relation to the wartime record of Pius XII.