It is counter-intuitive for many Jews to regard the Roman Catholic Church as its friend, given the weight of history that records the many expulsions and attacks on European Jews over the centuries. However, there is another historical record--that of its popes--which tells of their continued efforts to protect Jews and save their lives.
This history is recounted in The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis by Rabbi David G. Dalin ($27,95, Regnery). He wrote this book because Pope Pius XII has been under attack for a very long time by dissident Catholic authors. It should escape no one's notice that the author's faith is Judaism and this lends particular weight to his carefully documented rebuttal. "There has been a tradition of papal support for the Jews of Europe since at least the fourteenth century."
"It is an abominable slander to spread blame that belongs to Hitler and the Nazis to a pope who was a friend of the Jews," says Rabbi Dalin. For example, during the Nazi occupation of Rome, there is ample documentation that Pope Pius XII was personally responsible for saving the lives of close to five thousands Roman Jews, sheltering them in the Vatican and in the numerous monasteries and convents throughout the city. He did much more, however.
He was following in a tradition that dates back to Pope Gregory I (590-604) who issued an historic decree, Sicut Judaeis, affirming that Jews "should have no infringement of their rights We forbid to vilify the Jews." This decree was taken up by Pope Calixitus (1119-1124) and reissued at least 22 times by successive popes between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. During the Black Plague, Pope Clement VI (1342-1352) was the only European leader to defend the Jews against the charge they were responsible for it. Renaissance popes were instrumental in collecting and protecting 116 Hebrew books and manuscripts. Pope Leo X (1513-1521) repealed the obligation of Jews to wear badges, a precursor to the Nazi requirement of the infamous Yellow Star.
In the twentieth century, both Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII vigorously condemned the Nazis. Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, who had spent his years of service to the Church as one of its greatest statesman, regarded Hitler as "the greatest enemy of Christ and of the Church in modern times." Pacelli was the papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929 and, during this time delivered 44 speeches, using 40 of them to denounce some aspect of the emerging Nazi ideology. Elected Pope in 1939, just months before the beginning of WWII, the College of Cardinals deliberated just one day and selected the first Vatican secretary of state to the office.
Thus, the creation and maintenance of the slander of Pius XII needs to be examined for its true purpose. Rabbi Dalin identifies it succinctly. "The liberal culture war against tradition--of which the Pope Pius XII controversy is a microcosm--must be recognized for what it is: an assault on the institution of the Catholic Church and traditional religion."
This book is particularly timely, coming as it does when one of the world's religions, Islam, has declared a holy war against the West and, seen in its wider implication, against all other religions.
The leaders of the Jihad understand far better than more moderate Muslims that Islam is not likely to sustain itself in the twenty-first century and beyond, being in conflict with a world that recognizes the rights of one half of its population, women, and advocating a legal system, Sharia, that opposes human rights, democracy, and the capitalism that leads inevitably to the spread of prosperity and freedom throughout the world.
Pius XII and the late Pope John Paul II are great examples of those whom Jews identify as "righteous gentiles"; those who never failed to act and to speak out in the defense of Judaism and Jews. This is the highest honor they can bestow. Together today Jews and Catholics are brothers in arms against the war being waged against them and the West by Islam.
Perhaps no one better exemplifies the Jihad than Hajj amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem "whose anti-Jewish Islamic fundamentalism was as dangerous in World War II as it is today," says Rabbi Dalin. al-Husseini, a Palestinian, was Hitler's collaborator, a man who never ceased to incite anti-Semitic violence and whose cause was taken up by Yasser arafat, the late father of modern terrorism, for whom he was a mentor.
The record of al-Husseini's collaboration, his pre-and-post WWII attacks on Jews, is well documented. The historian, Kenneth R. Timmerman, wrote that al-Husseini's and arafat's jihad "provides the common thread linking past to present. If today's Muslim anti-Semitism is like a tree with many branches, its roots feed directly off of Hitler's Third Reich."
The demand for Palestinian nationhood is led today by Mahmood abbas, arafat's chief deputy, and the author of a 1983 book denying the Holocaust that killed six million Jews and five million Christians and others. The war initiated by the virulently anti-Semitic Nazi Germany and joined by fascist Italy, and the Empire of Japan killed an estimated sixty million people worldwide.
If for no other reason Christians and Jews together must remain resolute in the defeat of the Islamic Jihad. The stakes could not be higher.