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Jews Mourn Loss of Champion of Human Rights, Foe of Racialism

February 12, 1939
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jews throughout the world joined Christianity today in mourning the death of Pope Pius XI who in his lifetime had led the Church in a campaign against anti-Semitism and racialism which placed him among the foremost defenders of human rights, put him in conflict with the Italian Fascists and made him the target for abuse in the German press.

From London, the chief rabbis of Palestine and the British Empire cabled condolences to Rome. Dr. Isaac Herzog, in a cable to Cardinal Pacelli, Papal Secretary of State, expressed “profoundest sympathy on behalf of Palestine Jewry and myself in the great loss sustained by the Catholic Church and humanity in general.” Dr. Joseph H. Hertz addressed a similar cable to Cardinal Hinsley, spiritual leader of British Catholics, on behalf of the Jews of the British Empire. In Warsaw, the Rabbinical Association of Poland cabled condolences to the Vatican.

In New York, Rabbi David de Sola Pool issued a statement on behalf of the Synagogue Council of America, declaring the Pope’s death “a profound loss to humanity.” “The synagogues in America,” he said, “pay reverent tribute to this great-souled world religious leader.” The Rabbinical Assembly, in a telegram to Bishop Stephen J. Donahue of New York, expressed its “deep feeling of grief” at the Pope’s passing, declaring “his true saintliness, his love of men and his earnest efforts for peace” an inspiration to all.

In Washington, President Henry Monsky, paying tribute to the Pope as “one of the greatest humanitarians of our time,” called upon the 100,000 members of the B’nai B’rith to “join with men and women of other faiths” in sponsoring memorials to him. He announced that lodges and chapters of Aleph Zadik Aleph, junior branch of the order, in the United States and Canada were preparing to initiate such memorials.

In an editorial on the Pope’s death, the New York Times said today that he had died waging war on the “racial religion of National Socialism” and that “his last battle was against the policy of ‘racism’ in Italy, vigorously condemned as wholly incompatible with the Christian conception of human equality before God.”

One of the most spirited defenses of the Jews came from the lips of the Pontiff when he told a group of Belgian Catholics last September: “Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the idea of the sublime reality of the Biblical text. It is an antipathetic movement in which we Christians are unable to participate. Naturally, it is impossible for Christians to share in anti-Semitism. We concede to anybody the right to defend himself and to take measures to safeguard his interests. But anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually we are all Semites.”

The Pope was outspoken in his opposition to Nazi principles. In April, 1934, he denounced “false Christianity” and “real paganism” in Germany. In September, 1937, he said religious conditions in the Reich were “truly deplorable.” In December of that year he devoted his entire Christmas message to the Sacred College of Cardinals to an indictment of Nazi Germany, its “frightful” and “violently brutal” persecution.

The Pontiff had made an outstanding issue of racialism and Nazi influence in Italy. Last May, when Hitler visited Rome, he expressed regret that the swastika — “a cross that is not the cross of Christ” — had been displayed in Rome. In July he condemned “exaggerated” nationalism as “erroneous and dangerous,” and three days later extended the attack to all racist theories as “detestable.” At the end of July, mentioning Italy by name for the first time, he delivered the most direct of the three addresses by deploring the “unhappy imitation of Germany” — a phrase which stirred Premier Mussolini to violent reply — and termed mankind a vast symphony of all peoples.

The attacks led to tension between the Vatican and the Italian Government, which for a time threatened the Lateran Treaty and the future existence of the Catholic Action organization in Italy. But even after an accord on Catholic Action had been reached in August, the Pope renewed his attack on the “veritable curse” of excessive nationalism. In September he called the Fascist racist doctrine “a great and serious error which reached the steps of the altar, touching Catholic doctrine.”

Last year the Pope appointed two Jewish scientists, Levi Civita and Prof. Volterra, to the new Papal Academy of Science, and Prof. Civita spoke on the Vatican radio station on Einstein’s relativity theory — the first Jew to speak over the papal broadcasting station. Last March, he sent a money grant to the refugee widow and two daughters of the famous German Jewish scientist, Heinrich Hertz, which act was interpreted in Rome as a slap at the Nazis.

Pius at one time evidenced keen interest in the work of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In receiving foreign correspondents in April, 1934, he conversed with J. David Kleinlerer, J.T.A. correspondent in Rome — who was expelled last year by the Italian Government — and asked for detailed information about the organization and work of the J.T.A.

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