This is not an exhaustive writing, to say the least, but just an attempt to skim the surface and encourage an open debate about this passionate subject.
Prior to becoming Pius XII, he was known as Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, born March 2, 1876 and died October 9, 1958. He worked a tremendous amount of time in the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, which was a sub-office of the Vatican's Secretary of State; therefore, he did a LOT of diplomatic work around the world. He was eventually made the Apostolic Nuncio of Germany, which is the Church's version of the role of Ambassador; here is where many anti-Pius people think he got cozy with Germany and Nazism, but we shall see Germany's horrified reaction to Cardinal Pacelli's election to the papacy in a little bit.
During his time in Germany, he saw the rise of Nazism firsthand. Being concerned about this, the pope at the time - Pius XI - worked with Cardinal Pacelli in the release of one of the Church's only papal letters NOT to be released in Latin - it was released in German in 1937 and was directed at the German people, informing them that the principles of Nazism are incompatible with Christianity. Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German Foreign Ministry, wrote that the "Encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German Government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the State, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace."
With Pius XI's death, Pacelli was elected to the papacy in 1939, taking the name of Pius XII. Germany was very unhappy. Two days after Pacelli's election, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: "Midday with the Führer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as Pope." The Germans were the only government to not send representatives to Pius' coronation ceremony. According to the Jewish Chronicle in London on March 10, quoting an anti-Nazi speech Pacelli delivered in Lourdes in April 1935 and reporting on the hostile statements expressed about him in the Nazi press, the Chronicle said, "It is interesting to recall... on January 22 , the Voelkischer Beobachter published pictures of Cardinal Pacelli and other Church dignitaries beneath a collective heading of 'Agitators in the Vatican against Fascism and National Socialism.'" The Chronicle also reported that upon the election of Pacelli, the "Vatican received congratulatory messages from the Anglo-Jewish Community, the Synagogue Council of America, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Polish Rabbinical Council." When Pius XII appointed Luigi Cardinal Maglione as the Vatican's new Secretary of State, the Zionist Review in London said that the Cardinal's appointment "confirms the view that the new Pope means to conduct an anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist policy."
Jimmy Akin writes: Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, writes: "Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March of 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929. . . . The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ " Hermann Goering, in explaining the need to crush the Church, said, "Catholic believers carry away but one impression from attendance at divine services, and that is that the Catholic Church rejects the institutions of the Nationalist State." Hitler condemned Pius XII as "a Jew lover".
Former Israeli diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide wrote "Of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave in Germany as papal nuncio between 1917 and 1929, forty denounced some aspect of the emerging Nazi ideology." In 1935, Pacelli wrote a letter to the bishop of Cologne and described the Nazis as "false prophets with the pride of Lucifer," and as "bearers of a new faith" who were attempting to create "a mendacious antimony [false dichotomy] between faithfulness to the Church and the Fatherland". In his address at Lourdes in 1935, Pacelli said in front of 325,000 pilgrims, "The Church will never come to terms with Nazis as long as they persist in their racial philosophy." In 1937, at Notre Dame in Paris he named Germany as "that noble and powerful nation whom bad shepherds would lead astray into an ideology of race." According to Joseph Bottum, Pacelli in 1937 "warned A. W. Klieforth, the American consul to Berlin, that Hitler was "an untrustworthy scoundrel and fundamentally wicked person," and called Hitler "diabolical" in a talk with the French ambassador.
Two months after Hitler's invasion of Poland and the start of World War II, Pius XII released the letter Summi Pontificatus, which condemned totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government. The head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Mueller, commented that the encyclical was “directed exclusively against Germany.” The American Israelite in Cincinnati praised the Pope's letter, "In decrying totalitarianism, Pope Pius XII called the individual 'the end' and the state 'the means' of bringing out the fundamental equality of men, because men are endowed with reason...This concept of democracy is reiterated in the Pope's Encyclical, stressing again the inviolability of the human person as a sacred being..."
In 1940, the Jewish Advocate in Boston reported that on the Pope's orders, Vatican Radio broadcast about the atrocities being committed in Poland. "Jews and Poles are being herded into separate ghettos, hermetically sealed and pitifully inadequate for the economic subsistence of the millions designed to live there." The Allied forces continued to deny that this was happening; only the Vatican was reporting it at the time. Later in 1940, Hitler sent Joachim von Ribbentrop to Rome in an attempt to intimidate the Pope into lying down in the face of Nazi brutality and might. "Von Ribbentrop...went into a lengthy harangue on the invincibility of the Third Reich, the inevitability of a Nazi victory, and the futility of papal alignment with the enemies of the Führer. Pius XII heard von Ribbentrop out politely and impassively. Then he opened an enormous ledger on his desk and, in his perfect German, began to recite a catalogue of the persecutions inflicted by the Third Reich in Poland, listing the date, place, and precise details of each crime. The audience was terminated; the Pope’s position was clearly unshakable." The New York Times' headline read JEWS’ RIGHTS DEFENDED and the article remarked, "The Pontiff, in the burning words he spoke to Herr Ribbentrop about religious persecution, also came to the defense of the Jews in Germany and Poland."
In the December 23, 1940 issue of Time Magazine (p.38), Albert Einstein is quoted saying, "Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks...Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."
In 1942, in his address for Christmas, Pius XII continued to condemn what the Nazis were doing to Jew & Gentile throughout Europe, and he continued to call for peace. The New York Times reported: "This Christmas more than ever Pope Pius XII is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent. The pulpit whence he speaks is more than ever like the Rock in which the Church was founded, a tiny island lashed and surrounded by a sea of war... When a leader hound impartially to nations on both sides condemns as heresy the new form of national state which subordinates everything to itself; when he declares that whoever wants peace must protect against 'arbitrary attacks' the 'juridical safety of individual'; when he assails violent occupation of territory, the exile and persecution of human beings for no reason other than race or political opinion; when he says that people must fight for a just and decent peace, a 'total peace'--the 'impartial' judgment is like a verdict in our high court of justice." The California Jewish Voice reported on his address, "Religious persecution and oppression of minorities must have no place in the world of the future, declared Pope Pius XII in his annual Christmas Eve message." Reich Central Security Office responded: "In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order.... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."
As a former diplomat, Pius XII was conscious of the repercussions that may occur due to something that a leader might say; therefore, he desired that the Vatican, bishops, and clergy work behind the scenes in efforts to save Jews and other persecuted minorities from Nazi oppression and death. This fear of reprisal was realized in the vicious persecution of Jews in Holland after the Archbishop of Utrecht openly condemned Nazism after the Vatican requested silence. Nazi orders came down swiftly and even Jews that had converted to Catholicism were swept up and ushered into the death camps; this is when Carmelite nun St. Edith Stein met her doom, since now even monasteries and convents were busted open to look for Jews.
Even though the Vatican was militarily powerless to stop Nazi atrocities, they did what they could to tend to the needs of the victims. Rabbi Naftali Adler and Dr. Max Pereles, the representatives of thousands of Jewish refugees interned at the Ferramonti concentration camp in southern Italy, wrote the Pope to thank him for sending an abundant supply of clothing and linen to the camp for the children. "This noble and generous gift proves anew what the whole world knows and admires that Your Holiness is... also the paternal guardian and promoter of the ideal of humanity for all mankind." Pius XII lifted cloister restrictions, allowing religious houses throughout Europe to offer refuge for Jews. He allowed the issuance of false baptismal certificates to Jews, delivered food to ghettos, and encouraged clergy around Europe to do what they could to save lives. In the fall of 1943, the Jewish communities of Chile, Uruguay, and Bolivia sent letters to Pope Pius XII, and thanked him for assisting Jews.
In July 1944, American Hebrew in New York published an interview with Chief Rabbi Israel Zolli of Rome. "The Vatican has always helped the Jews and the Jews are very grateful for the charitable work of the Vatican, all done without distinction of race." After the war, Rabbi Zolli converted to Catholicism, taking the name "Eugenio" — the Pope’s given name — as his own baptismal name.
Many Catholics, clergy and lay, worked to save Jewish lives. Irena Sendler, a devout Polish Catholic, would sneak into the ghettos for humanitarian efforts, but would always leave with children smuggled out in tool boxes, crates, and false compartments in ambulances; she was severely beaten for her efforts, but remained silent about what she was doing, saving all the records in a jar buried in her yard so that after the war the children could be matched up again with their parents. In Croatia, Pius XII gave all the help he could when requests were made to save Jewish lives. Chief Rabbi Freiberger appreciated "the limitless goodness that the representatives of the Holy See and the leaders of the Church showed to our poor brothers." The future Pope St. John XXIII, saved thousands of Jewish lives while serving as apostolic nuncio to Turkey during World War II, creating false documents and papers for Jewish refugees seeking to escape into Palestine. He formed a network of other Church officials and neutral politicians whom he enlisted to assist him in his efforts to save and protect the Jewish people. Rabbi Pinchas Lapide records that "in Rome we saw a list of 155 convents and monasteries...mostly extraterritorial property of the Vatican, which sheltered throughout the German occupation some 5,000 Jews in Rome. No less than 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo; sixty lived for nine months at the Jesuit Gregorian University, and half a dozen slept in the cellar of the Pontifical Bible Institute." Thirty-six Jewish babies were born in the Pope's apartment, and even in his own bed at Castel Gandolfo! None of this could have been done without the Pope's knowledge and approval.
But to today's eye and ears, the perceived silence from the Vatican is a deafening condemnation; however, contemporaries understood the "silence". Catholic Answers writes: "A Jewish couple from Berlin who had been held in concentration camps but escaped to Spain with the help of Pius XII, stated: "None of us wanted the Pope to take an open stand. We were all fugitives, and fugitives do not wish to be pointed at. The Gestapo would have become more excited and would have intensified its inquisitions. If the Pope had protested, Rome would have become the center of attention. It was better that the Pope said nothing. We all shared this opinion at the time, and this is still our conviction today."
Jean Bernard, Bishop of Luxembourg, who has detained at Dachau, later wrote, "The detained priests trembled every time news reached us of some protest by a religious authority, but particularly by the Vatican. We all had the impression that our warders made us atone heavily for the fury these protests evoked."
There are too many reports to list here, but you get the idea - there is Jewish, Catholic, and secular proof that Pius XII condemned Nazism and that Germany saw him as no friend of Hitler or the Nazi cause. Throughout the war, the pope tried to contact Hitler in attempts to encourage peace. Von Ribbentrop at the Nuremburg war trials, said, "I do not recollect [how many] at the moment, but I know we had a whole deskful of protests from the Vatican. There were very many we did not even read or reply to."
When Pius XII died, the Jewish leaders of the time mourned his passing and praised his efforts. Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir said, “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.” Alexander Shafran, Chief Rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the Supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews.... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance". Dr. Raphael Cantoni, a leader in Italy's Jewish Assistance Committee said, "The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and insofar as they could Christians. Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis... but there would have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII." Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote: "With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history."
Upon his death, an outpouring of compliments and sympathy came from such organizations as the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the Synagogue Council of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, the American Jewish Congress, the New York Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the National Council of Jewish Women. The Chief Rabbis of London, Rome, Jerusalem, France, Egypt, Argentina and many other Jewish newspapers also paid tribute to the late Pope.
So, what happened? Why, forty to fifty years later, does most of the Western world condemn Pius XII? It's partly due to the fact that there's not much research done these days. Another reason is because people have an already biased view of the Church and can only see through those lenses. A third reason is because modern man has a knack for viewing past generations with contempt thanks to the very haughty benefit of "hindsight". This is why I instead turned towards the contemporaries of Pius XII. Even in Protestant and secular eyes, the Church was doing a lot to save the Jews and oppose Hitler.
The big "scandal", though didn't come until the 1960s when a Communist German Protestant named Rolf Hochhuth published the play The Deputy, where Pius XII was portrayed as "a cigarette-smoking dandy with Nazi leanings." The movie Amen is based on this play, showing Pius XII as "an icy, cynical and uncaring" pontiff "more interested in Vatican investments than human lives." Historian Robert Graham said that Hochhuth actually admitted that "on the level of action, Pius XII generously aided the Jews to the best of his ability." However, there was an agenda and that was to discredit the Church's moral voice in her opposition to Communism. John Cornwell, author of the discredited, but still scathing attack on Pius XII entitled Hitler's Pope, wrote of The Deputy that it was, "historical fiction based on scant documentation…(T)he characterization of Pacelli (Pius XII) as a money-grubbing hypocrite is so wide of the mark as to be ludicrous."
Despite all of that, today's generation believes the lies because it's taken completely out of context. Pius' role in World War II is not talked about and the negative reaction to the play is often unheard of. Instead, it's all taken as fact and none of the charges are challenged...until today! I am thankful that so many websites, organizations, and books have been written - along with releases of information from the Vatican archives - in the attempt to clear this good and holy Pope's name. Our Lady of Fatima warned that the lies of Russia could spread, and the lie about Pius XII is proof of that. The Soviet Union tried its best to silence the Church, even going so far as to attempt the assassination of St. John Paul II; it's only fitting that he credited his survival to Our Lady of Fatima. I pray to Our Lady of Fatima that, if it be God's will, may the scornful lies about Pius XII - and, by extension, about the Catholic Church - be refuted so that many may come to believe. On my own faith journey, had I discovered that it was indeed true that the Church turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, I don't know if I could have entered full communion. How could I listen to the Church's moral authority when it had failed so catastrophically? That's what the Communists want us to think, which is why we need to work at exposing the truth behind the lies. The Church is the voice of the oppressed and the voice of Truth. By God's good graces, I was blessed with learning the truth behind Pius XII. It is my prayer that, thanks in part to this writing, you may be inspired to seek the Truth and shake off the lies of the world, of the Evil One, and come to the Truth.