Leon Poliakov, "The Vatican and the Jewish Question: The Record of the Hitler Period -- and After," Commentary, 10 (Nov 1950) 439-449

Abstract by Jerry Darring


Poliakov begins with a brief overview of the development of the church from the Middle Ages to Pope Pius XI. He considers Pius XI a courageous pope who condemned Nazism and racism and left Rome when Hitler visited the city. Pius XII, on the other hand, has never condemned the Third Reich, maintained correct diplomatic relations with it, and never denounced the concordat. In acting this way, the Vatican has only remained faithful to its medieval tradition in the treatment of Jews. Jews could be humiliated and persecuted, but they served as witnesses to the triumph of the church. This explains why Pius XII and other church dignitaries did much to personally help Jews.

Bishops in western Europe issued courageous protests to the occupying powers, but there were no such protests in eastern European countries such as Poland, perhaps because of a different attitude there towards the Jews. As for Pius XII, "if there were some resounding protests made with the Vatican's approval on the local level, the Pope did not consider it wise to add to these protests the authority of his own voice; or if he did make a public statement, it was with such caution that his words had no effect, or were misunderstood" (442). It could be argued that public protest would have caused more harm than good. At any rate, the church did help many Jews survive.

In discussing the "final solution," Poliakov quotes extensively from a report sent by a diplomat representing Vichy France in the Vatican. He makes it clear that the Vatican is not going to object to the various anti-Jewish policies that had been adopted by the Petain government. He quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, showing that the church has engaged in practices similar to what the Nazis were doing. "As someone in authority at the Vatican has told me, they do not intent to pick a quarrel with us over the Statut des Juifs," the diplomat wrote, as long as no stipulations are added about marriage and as long as the law is applied in accord with justice and charity.

The final part of Poliakov's article deals with the post-war period, in which the Vatican has pressed for international control of the holy places in Jerusalem. At the very end of his article, he discusses the Good Friday prayer for the "perfidious Jews," pointing out that the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1948 approved any translation of "perfidi Judaei" that means 'infidelity' and 'infidel in matters of faith'.