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Just another neutral state: The Vatican in the Holocaust

This short excerpt from a noted scholar of the Holocaust, Prof. R.S. Landau, depicts the behaviour of the State of the Vatican City as no different from that of any other neutral country anxious to avoid being attacked and to emerge on the winning side.

“I am afraid that history may have cause to reprove the Holy See for a policy accommodated to its own advantage and little else. And this is very sad, above all whan one has lived under Pius XI.”
— Eugene Cardinal Tisserant to Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard, 11 June 1940.

The Nazi Holocaust

Excerpts from Dr. Ronnie S. Landau, 1992

During the war the Vatican, which enjoyed – as it does today – political and diplomatic independence, was officially neutral. Like many neutral states, it felt extremely vulnerable to Nazi aggression, especially since Hitler made it clear that he would brook no opposition from the Church. So long as Germany appeared likely to win the war, the official Catholic Church tended to adopt, at best, a silent posture and, at worst, an apparently pro-German stance. After all, one of Germany’s principal foes was the Soviet Union, and the Vatican was intensely anti-Communist. However, after Germany’s military reverses at Stalingrad and El Alamein, and with her defeat an ever increasing probability, the Vatican – preoccupied in common with other neutral countries with survival and no doubt with an eye on its postwar reputation – danced less cravenly to the Nazi tune. […]

Why, it has been asked repeatedly, did the Pope not utter a solemn denunciation of this crime against the Jews and against humanity? His moral authority was so great that, had he publicised the true purpose behind the deportation, he would have been believed, whereas Allied broadcasts could always be dismissed as propaganda. Why did he not threaten with excommunication the many Catholics who participated in this mass murder? [p. 216]

Why, it has been demanded, did he not give a clear moral and spiritual lead to Catholic priests throughout Europe? In June 1941, when the Vichy French government introduced ‘Jewish laws’ closely modelled upon the Nuremberg Laws, the pope responded to appeals for French bishops by stating that such laws were not in conflict with Catholic teaching. Later efforts by the British, Americans and Poles to persuade the Vatican to publish a specific condemnation of Nazi extermination of the Jews fell on deaf ears. The pope, came the reply, could only issue a general denunciation of wartime atrocities. [p. 217]


Ronnie S. Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, 1992. 
Dr. Landau, former Head of Humanities at the City Literary Institute, is Director of the British Holocaust Education Project and Member of Faculty at Leo Baeck College, London, where he lectures in modern Jewish history.

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