Defender of the Jews: Pius XII

Read how many considered Pope Pius XII as the Jews greatest protector during World War II.

This commentary of notable quotes concerning Pope Pius XII's during World War II to defend the Jews appeared in the January 2009 issue of The Angelus magazine (derived from DICI).


It has become somewhat standard practice in academia to accuse Pope Pius XII of at least implicitly aiding and abetting the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II. This is in direct contrast to the historical evidence, especially much prominent testimony from contemporary Jews. Even withstanding the fact that the Vatican archives have not yet been opened for Pius XII’s pontificate, we quote here some of these Jews who recognized publicly what Pope Pius XII did during those years. Let their words speak for themselves.

The Catholic Church under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000, Jews from certain death at Nazi hands. (Three Popes and the Jews by Pinchas E. Lapide, New York: Hawthorn, 1967)

No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews. Upon his death in 1958, several suggested in open letters that a Pope Pius XII forest of 860,000 trees be planted on the hills of Judea in order to fittingly honor the memory of the late Pontiff because the Catholic Church under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving the lives of as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands. (Pinchas E. Lapide, ibid.)

I told [Pope Pius XII] that my first duty was to thank him, and through him the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews.... We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Church. (Moshe Sharett, Israel’s first foreign minister)

Only the Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught.... Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church. (Albert Einstein, Time magazine, 1940, quoted in Three Popes and the Jews by Pinchas E. Lapide, New York: Hawthorn, 1967, p.251)

The repeated interventions of the Holy Father on behalf of Jewish communities in Europe has evoked the profoundest sentiments of appreciation and gratitude from Jews throughout the world. (Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig, political director of the World Jewish Congress in a letter written February 18, 1944, to Msgr. Amleto Cicognani, the apostolic delegate in Washington, D.C.)

In the most difficult hours of which we Jews of Romania have passed through, the generous assistance of the Holy See…was decisive and salutary. 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. (Rabbi Alexander Safran, chief rabbi of Romania, letter to Msgr. Andrea Cassulo, Papal Nuncio to Romania, April 7, 1944)

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 foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world. (Rabbi Isaac Herzog, chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine, March 1945)

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. (Eugenio Zolli, former chief rabbi of Rome and convert to the Faith, 1948)

More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror when it seemed that for us there was no longer an escape. (Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, 1951)

We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. In a generation affected by wars and discords, he upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. 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. (Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister, message of condolence to the Vatican, sent 1958)

The papal nuncio and the bishops intervened again and again on the instructions of the pope, and that as a result of these labors in the autumn and winter of 1944, there was practically no Catholic Church institution in Budapest where persecuted Jews did not find refuge. (Jewish historian Jeno Levai, Hungarian Jewry and the Papacy: Pius XII Did Not Remain Silent, 1965)

Pius XI had good reason to make Pacelli (the future Pius XII) the architect of his anti-Nazi policy. Of the 44 speeches which the Nuncio Pacelli had made on German soil between 1917 and 1929, at least 40 contained attacks on Nazism or condemnations of Hitler’s doctrines. Pacelli, who never met the Fuhrer, called it 'neo-Paganism.' (Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews, New York: Hawthorn, 1967, p.118)

Never, in those tragic days, could I have foreseen, even in my wildest imaginings, that the man who, more than any other, had tried to alleviate human suffering, had spent himself day by day in his unceasing efforts for peace, would—20 years later—be made the scapegoat for men trying to free themselves from their own responsibilities and from the collective guilt that obviously weighs so heavily upon them. (Msgr. John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, But for the Grace of God, pp.48)"

During the Nazi occupation of Rome, 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Amazingly, Castel Gandolfo is never mentioned or discussed in the anti-papal writings of many of the pope’s critics. Yet at no other site in Nazi-occupied Europe were as many Jews saved and sheltered for as long a period as at Castel Gandolfo during the Nazi occupation of Rome. Kosher food was provided for the Jews hidden there, where, as George Weigel has noted, Jewish children were born in the private apartments of Pius XII, which became a temporary obstetrical ward. (Rabbi David Dalin, Ph.D., July 29, 2005 interview with Dr. Thomas E. Woods)

(Sources:; DICI, no.186., Nov. 22-Dec. 20, 2008)