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Jewish Historian Raps the Papacy for Its Record As Onlooker During and Since the Holocaust

March 10, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Saul Friedman, professor of history at Youngstown State University in Ohio, said here recently that the record of the Papacy towards the Jews before and since the Holocaust is an appalling one.

Friedman, author of “No Hope for the Oppressed,” “Pogromchik,” “Amcha,” and “Incident at Massena,” told a Beth Tzedec Synagogue audience that while the Vatican has officially ignored the existence of Israel for 34 years, it has been extremely solicitous of the Palestinians.

“When the Papacy promulgated its famous statements about Jews and Judaism in 1962 (at the Second Vatican Council), the Vatican went out of its way to appease Arabs by telling them that no basic changes in attitudes towards Jews were intended, Friedman said.

“No Pope has ever visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, even though it is one of the most sacred shrines in Christianity and the one Pope who visited Jerusalem back in 1965 came in through the back door via Jordan.” He was referring to Pope Paul VI.


Friedman indicated that while Pope John Paul II has met with PLO chief Yasir Arafat (and been photographed with him) he has never met, on an official basis, with the leader of any Israeli government. The current policy of the Vatican, according to Friedman, shows that the Catholic Church is as uncomfortable with the plight of Jews today as it was before and during the Holocaust.

“When the current Pope went to Auschwitz two years ago, he made reference to the ‘sons of Abraham’. The fact that he was unable to pronounce the word Jew is symptomatic of the Church’s uneasiness with Israel and world Jewry,” Friedman said.

He contended that this is consistent with the Papacy’s posture during the Holocaust when it chose to remain silent in the face of the destruction of six million Jews and six million gentiles. “In 1938 Pope Pius XI was considering the issuing of a papal encyclical condemning anti-Semitism. His successor, Pius the XII, a Germanophile who saw Germany as a bulwark against Communism, chose not to move with the document.”

According to Friedman, the only time that the Papacy intervened in the case of Jews was when they were converted to Catholicism. Friedman elicited groans from the audience when he indicated that Pope Pius XII is now being considered for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church.


Friedman dismissed as rationalizations after the fact, arguments that Papal intervention might have made the situation of European Jews even worse. “The Nazi movement began in Bavaria: many of the members of the Nazi hierarchy, including Himmler, Kaltenbruner, Frank and Hitler himself — were Catholics.

“I realize, of course, that a Papal interdiction would have had little effect an people of that ilk — but it might have had some on the hundreds of thousands of German soldiers who were practicing Catholics and on the Catholics who participated with the Germans among the Ukrainian, Polish and other national groups in carrying out the ‘final solution’.”

In his analysis of Vatican politics, Friedman contrasted the silence of the church during the Holocaust and the speed with which it condemned the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. In the latter context the Papacy, through the current Pope, specifically endorsed the idea of Palestinian rights, Friedman said. It did not, however, identify the perpetrators of the atrocities.

Friedman pointed out that the 400,000 Israelis who demonstrated in Tel Aviv last September for the inquiry commission showed the prophetic spirit of Judaism and their response to Sabra and Shatila validated Jewish beliefs in the idea of responsibility for one’s actions, even indirect responsibility. Friedman contrasted this with the Lebanese Phalangists who are still entrenched in their positions and who openly boast of their activities in the camps.

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