February 17, 2001
volume 12, no. 48

New Book Defends Pius XII, Attacks Critics

Inside The Vatican Reporter seeks to collapse Cornwell's credibility

    VATICAN, Feb. 16, 01 ( -- An important new book, "The Jews Saved by Pius XII," was introduced in Rome today, to an audience that included the city's chief rabbi, Elio Toaff.

    The book, by Italian journalist Antonio Gaspari, is published in Italian by Logos editions. A short (142-page) volume, it offers a staunch defense of Pope Pius XII against the allegations that he remained indifferent to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. An appendix lists 150 religious congregations that provided assistance to the Jews of Rome during World War II.

    Gaspari is highly critical of the book "Hitler's Pope," by John Cornwell; he devotes an entire chapter of "The Jews Saved by Pius XII" to the errors and inaccuracies in Cornwell's work. And he is also critical of a joint Catholic-Jewish commission which has been studying the Vatican archives for the period around World War II. The creation of that commission was "a great opportunity for finding the truth," Gaspari argues. Unfortunately, he charges, the work of the commission had been marred by "prejudices," by "anti-Catholic ideology," and by an evident desire to "cause difficulty for the Holy See."

    Rabbi Elio Toaff, who attended the introduction of the book in Rome, explained that he came to the press conference out of deference to an old friend, a Catholic priest who had saved his family from the Nazis during World War II. ""Friendship can save lives," he remarked.


Priest says Pius XII knew Rome institutions sheltered Jews

By Cindy Wooden , Catholic News Service

    ROME (CNS) -- The Catholic convents, parishes and institutions in Rome that hid and saved more than 4,400 Jews from the Nazis would not have taken such a risk without the approval of Pope Pius XII, said Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel.

    The priest, who is working on Pope Pius' cause for beatification, said the stories of Jews sheltered by Catholic priests and religious in Rome have been ``unknown or purposefully ignored'' in discussions about the pope's actions during the war.

    Within one of the most ``barbaric periods of history, there were lights of humanity, courageous actions by a wide variety of people, including Pius XII in an exceptional way,'' he said.

    Father Gumpel spoke Feb. 16 during the presentation of an Italian language book, ``The Jews Saved by Pius XII,'' written by Antonio Gaspari.

    Rabbi Elio Toaff, the retired chief rabbi of Rome, also spoke at the presentation, although he did not mention Pope Pius.

    The rabbi said he had been saved by the pastor of a church in his Rome neighborhood when Nazis were searching his apartment. His father, mother, wife and infant son were hidden and saved by another priest.

    ``This is what humanity means, this is what brotherhood means,'' Rabbi Toaff said.

    The presentation was held at a Rome hospital operated by the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception. At least 51 Jews were given shelter at the dermatology clinic beginning in the fall of 1943, when Rome's Nazi occupiers began rounding up the city's Jewish citizens.

    A plaque erected by Jewish survivors in the hospital garden praised the ``Sons of the Immaculate Conception who, under the pontificate of Pius XII,'' welcomed and hid Jews fleeing arrest and deportation to concentration camps in Germany.

    Gaspari's book briefly recounts a few of the stories of the 4,447 cases -- documented by Rome's Jewish community -- of Jews saved by Catholic priests and religious. The book also lists the 95 convents and institutions run by religious women and the 55 parishes, houses and institutions run by religious men where the Jews were hidden.

    The lists, Gaspari said, do not include the Jews who were hidden inside the Vatican and the Vatican-owned Lateran palace. They also do not include Catholic organizations that provided food or emigration assistance to Jews in the city.

    Father Gumpel said, ``We don't say we were the only ones to help,'' hiding Jews in convents, giving them baptismal certificates, even arranging new passports for them, ``but you cannot tell me this was happening without the knowledge of Pius XII.''

    The pope made it clear in letters of support to convents with ``guests'' and through a network of priests that those seeking refuge should be welcomed, the Jesuit said.

    He offered the city's Jewish community 33 pounds of gold when they needed help paying a ``tax'' of 110 pounds of gold imposed by the Nazis, Father Gumpel said. The pope's offer was never accepted, though, because the community was able to raise the money by itself.

    In addition, Father Gumpel said, the Vatican distributed money sent by Jews in North America to Jewish families in Rome and to convents hiding them.

    ``Never had there been such collaboration between North American Jewish organizations and the Vatican,'' he said. ``They sent money for saving and housing the city's Jews, but Pius XII used his own money as well, spending his own patrimony to save lives.''

February 17, 2001
volume 12, no. 48
News from ROME
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