Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews During the Holocaust, 1939-1943 (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
John F. Morley’s Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews During the Holocaust, 1939-1943, will undoubtedly remain for some time into the future the definitive description of Vatican activities regarding the Jews and the Holocaust. The volume is well conceived, meticulous in its research, and thorough in its analyses. Basing his study on approximately four thousand documents recording diplomatic exchanges between the Vatican Secretariat of State and its diplomats in Europe from 1939 to 1943, instructions and orders from the Vatican, accounts from papal nuncios of their experiences and observations, and the memoranda both of papal emissaries and of outside parties, this volume is an accurate portrayal of the role played by the Vatican in the Holocaust.
The author’s study of these and other sources was designed to reveal how the Vatican and its emissaries responded to Nazi persecution and destruction of the Jews from the outset of the papacy of Pius XII to the time in 1943 when published records ceased to be available and most of Europe’s Jews had already been murdered. During this period, the Vatican Secretariat of State had diplomatic emissaries or apostolic delegates in Berlin, Vichy, Berne, Rome, Bucharest, Zagreb, Bratislava, Budapest, Ankara, London, and Washington. In addition to studying and analyzing Vatican response to the plight of the Jews in these countries (except for England and the United States), the Morley book also studies the situation in Croatia and Poland. The book is a country-by-country description and analysis of Vatican response.
The Vatican records, according to Morley, confirm, corroborate, and elaborate documents already available in such archives as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaire in Paris, the Institute for Jewish Affairs in London, the World Jewish Congress in New York City, the Public Record Office in London, and the Myron Taylor archives of the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, and in many secondary sources from various major library collections in the United States as well as La Civilta Cattolica library in Rome. Relying on such a wealth of documentary evidence, Morley investigated “whether Vatican diplomatic effort, in fact, was directed toward the rights of the Church and its members, as well as being oriented toward the needs of non-Catholics, specifically Jews.” These were the two criteria which the Vatican claimed as the foundations of its World War II diplomacy.
The first of these criteria was clearly a responsibility of diplomacy because survival of the Church depends upon maintenance of the rights of the Church and its members. The second of the criteria was part of the historic and publicly proclaimed role of the Holy See as the guardian of universal morality and humanitarianism. Since this has over the years and during the period 1939 to 1943 been a self-proclaimed foundation of Vatican diplomacy and policy, failure to adhere to such a criterion while at the same time claiming to manifest this criterion would be damning.
In order to determine Vatican diplomacy and policy relating to these criteria, Morley provided a country-by-country chronological description of the stages of the Holocaust and the role taken by first, the papal nuncios; second, the Secretary of State, Luigi Cardinal Maglione; and, third, the Pope regarding each of these stages. The stages that the Jews underwent included racial legislation to isolate and pauperize, deportation to ghettos and death camps, and final destruction. In addition to testing the success or failure of the Vatican in adhering to the criteria on which World War II diplomacy was based, Morley explored other interesting issues, such as the reactions of Church officials to each stage of treatment of Jews, causal factors to explain the action or lack of action in behalf of Jews, and whether or not there was a Vatican attitude toward the Jews. The Morley book has been very carefully constructed, the criteria for Vatican diplomacy have been meticulously laid out, the questions asked of the evidence have been appropriately posed, and the evidence has been accurately presented. Altogether, Morley’s effort is admirable. If there is any problem it is one of repetition of two different types. Morley summarizes each chapter with a section of “Conclusions” that is generally repetitious of the chapter that preceded it. Based on this repetition, Morley draws his conclusions for each chapter. It is possible that some of this repetition could be eliminated, although this is a minor problem.
A first illustration of the Vatican’s response to persecution of the Jews may be discerned in the Vatican’s actions in regard to a request of the German Catholic hierarchy in 1939 to petition the government of Brazil to extend visas to three thousand Catholic Jews facing German persecution. Although the visas were eventually granted, the whole issue was beset with so many problems and issues that Brazil suspended the program in 1940 and ended it in 1941. Several conclusions must be made about the Vatican as it involved itself in the Brazilian visa project. It is clear that the Vatican was only concerned about baptized Jews or members of the Church and not about Jews in general. Moreover, diplomacy alone was employed in the visa project and became an end in itself, ignoring the genuine suffering of people. Certainly, the Vatican refused to do anything to disturb the status quo. Finally, the visa project was ever after recalled by the Vatican as an illustration of how much the Vatican had done for the Jews.
The situation in Rumania was most interesting where Archbishop Andrea Cassulo was the papal nuncio in Bucharest. Cassulo was very active in pursuit of the rights of baptized Jews. He viewed the suffering of the Jews, in fact, as inspired by divine plan to increase the number of baptisms. For this reason, he was not concerned about anti-Semitic legislation. As the Jews of Bukovina and Bessarabia, after much privation, were deported to Transnistria in 1941, the nuncio reluctantly protested only in behalf of converted Jews and in mid-1942 refused to intervene in behalf of Jews. In the fall of 1942, however, in response to requests of Jewish leaders, he did protest the treatment of Rumanian Jews, visiting Transnistria in the spring of 1943. Eventually Cassulo gained a significant reputation among Jews for his willingness to intervene in behalf of Jews.
Morley characterized Vatican diplomacy in France from 1939...
(The entire section is 2660 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!