Despite Richard Cohen's Sept. 21 op-ed column regarding Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust ["A Pope Who Was No Saint"], Pius XII should not be held in contempt for "allegedly" not vocalizing any resistance to Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Pius XII's efforts can best be surmised through the words of his Jewish contemporaries.
* The chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Isaac Herzog, sent a personal message to Pope Pius XII on Feb. 28, 1944, stating: "The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion which form the very foundations of true civilization, are doing for us unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of divine Providence in this world."
* Rabbi Safran of Bucharest, Romania, also sent a letter of gratitude on April 7, 1944, saying: "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."
* The chief rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli (who later converted to Catholicism and took the baptismal name "Eugenio" in admiration of the pope), stated his gratitude saying: "What the Vatican did will be indelibly and eternally engraved in our hearts. . . . Priests and even high prelates did things that will forever be an honor to Catholicism."
* Golda Meir, Israeli representative to the United Nations and future prime minister of Israel, stated upon Pius XII's death: "We share the grief of the world over the death of His Holiness Pius XII. . . . During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people passed through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims."
* Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, stated upon Pius XII's death: "With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history."
* Albert Einstein: "Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty."
Richard Cohen's attack on Pope John Paul II is a slap in the face of the thousands of Catholics, including Pope Pius XII, who worked against the Holocaust. Pope Pius knew all too well the evil of the Nazis by the thousands of Catholic priests and nuns who were marched into the gas chamber side by side with their Jewish sisters and brothers. He dedicated his life to working against this horrific crime. In light of Pope John Paul II's efforts to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, Cohen has no right to assume that the Vatican's outlook on the Holocaust is ambivalent. Just the opposite is the case.
--Michael R. McCaffery