The Church and the Memory of the Shoah

The Church and the Memory of the Shoah: The Catholic Press in Italy, 1945-1947


Manuela Consonni, The Hebrew University

“The Church and the Memory of the Shoah: The Catholic Press in Italy, 1945-1947” (pages 21-30), in: Jews, Catholics and the Burden of History, by Eli Lederhendler (2005), Oxford University Press,

Manuela Consonni is head of the Department of Italian Studies and the Romance and Latin American Studies section at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is affiliated with the Department of Modern and Contemporary Jewish History. She has recently been appointed head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism.

Consonni is the author of the monograph War of Memories: Deportation and Shoah in Italy, 1945-1985 (Magnes Press, 2005), in which she addresses the development of the memory of deportation and extermination in Italian society between 1945 and 1985, through the prism of the Jewish minority specifically, on how the Jewish minority influenced the creation of a national anti-Fascist and post-Fascist identity. She has been on the faculty at the Hebrew University since 1991.

Relatively few studies have dealt with the manner in which the Catholic Church, in the years immediately following the Second World War, confronted, reflected upon, and established its position regarding the deportation and extermination of the Jews of Italy. By the “Church” I do not mean the Catholic laity, but rather the ecclesiastic hierarchy, with the focus on the Church as a political entity.

In particular, I intend to examine the Church’s public role, its social impact, and the consequences of its political choices as reflected in the official Catholic press between 1945 and 1947, and also to offer my own hypothesis concerning the causes and motives that impelled the Church to maintain its silence at that time.

One is struck by this odd postwar silence, which might suggest indifference, and which stands in contrast to how much was written about both the Jews and the thorny question of antisemitism in that same press, both before and during the war.[1]

Why did silence dominate Vatican policy at war’s end? Was it that the past the Church would have had to address was too burdensome and tragic? Or that an analysis of its own attitudes required a degree of detachment that seemed untenable, given that the past was indissolubly linked with persisting political conditions and mentalities?[2]

In order to understand the difficult relationship between the Church and the memory of the deportation and extermination, one must be aware of the context: the atmosphere of “spiritual antisemitism,” to borrow Renato Moro’s phrase—a theological-ethical racism that was combined with a fear of modernity, the latter being perceived and defined as anti-Christian. Such an atmosphere prevailed in Church discourse before, during, and after the Shoah, continuing at least until Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in terris of 1963. The traditional conservative and fundamentally corporative political attitude, [3] with its strong anti-socialist and anticommunist hue, caused the Church to plunge into the political arena immediately after the liberation of Italy in April 1945, in the course of which it cast aside uncomfortable questions about the past.

Both the Jewish and the non-Jewish press brought the Nazi crimes to public attention in Italy at the end of the war. The anti-Jewish genocide, it was repeatedly and explicitly stated, was an event without precedent.[4] In December 1944, Carlo Alberto Viterbo, then the editor of Israel, printed the first article on the subject. If

the facts regarding the annihilation of the Jewish people were still held in doubt at that time, by 1945 the Shoah had become a concrete subject of discourse in which the descriptions of atrocities had become an acknowledged reality.[5] As Viterbo wrote in March 1945:

No people in history has ever grieved for five million victims, no people has confronted the murder of a third of its members, no people has ever lost (not in combat, with weapons in hand, but by the appalling slaughter of the unarmed) so many able-bodied men, together with so many innocent women, so many venerable old people, so many babies smiling at life.[6]

It was not only the press that concerned itself with the question. In the spring of 1945, the Minister for Occupied Italy, Mauro Scoccimarro, contacted the Jewish community of Rome, and through it the Union of Jewish Communities. He invited the recently liberated Jewish community—in its entirety—to collect and document reports on the crimes committed, and to transmit the materials gathered to a commission known as the Central Commission for Ascertaining the Atrocities Committed by the Germans and the Fascists against the Jews.[7]

And then there were the commemoration activities. No fewer than 28 memorial books dealing with the deportations and extermination, written by Jewish deportees, political deportees, and prisoners of war, were published in Italy between 1944 and 1947. [8] The Jesuit publication, La Civilta` Cattolica, generally considered the Vatican’s mouthpiece in Italy, reviewed only one of them, Paolo Liggeri’s Triangolo Rosso:

No book, apparently, has succeeded in documenting the martyrdom inflicted on the political prisoners of the recent war. . . . In the face of the horrors recounted in these pages, readers linger . . . and ask themselves if the cynicism of the Nazi hyena has not perhaps infected the author’s soul as well, so uninvolved and cold is the indifference with which he recounts the tortures, . . . the gas chambers, the shootings, the crematoria, the gas vans, the hangings, the electric fences, the vicious dogs, the experimental pills, the burning injections of nitrobenzene, the choking, the suffocation in pools, all of it inflicted with evident pleasure, even on old people . . . women in an advanced stage of pregnancy, children . . . [9]

Note that, in this review, the old men, the women, and the children have all been identified as “political prisoners.” The word “Jew” is nowhere to be found.[10]

By January 1945, according to abundant evidence, the Vatican knew all about the outcome of the “Final Solution.”[11] This observation is not made polemically but rather in an attempt to establish the continuity of themes and motives that had characterized the attitude of the Church before and after that date. On the day after liberation, the Church was, in fact, locked into preexisting mind-sets. These reflected a substantially reactionary attitude: tied to authoritarian political outlooks and circumstances, and still entirely political in its manifestations. [12]

As historian Giovanni Miccoli has noted, such tendencies had marked the history of the relations between the Church and Italian Fascism, a long and substantial collaboration that was neither defensive nor a mere matter of convenience. As The Church and the Memory of the Shoah: The Catholic Press in Italy, 1945–1947 23

Miccoli argues, the Church under Fascism was recognized as part of the ruling bureaucracy, “a religion . . . [possessing] prestige and social weight that had made it a pillar of the constituted order.”[13] The alliance, to be sure, was not without its collisions and tensions, as in 1938, in the government’s infringement of the 1929 Concordat, when anti-Jewish racial laws were applied to partners in mixed marriages.

This and other conflicts, however, did not substantially damage the underlying collaboration. In this context, it may be noted that after September 8, 1943 (the date of the Italian surrender and ouster of Mussolini), the Vatican secretary of state instructed its liaison with the government of Pietro Badoglio not to support the repeal of the racial laws, as formally requested by the Jewish community, because “according to the principles and traditions of the Church, such legislation still represented in the eyes of the Church, even after the fall of Fascism, arrangements that merit confirmation.” [14]

The postwar Church had not yet freed itself from the anti-Jewish polemic that, since the last decades of the 19th century, had marked traditional Catholicism all across Europe. In this polemic, the growing Jewish influence on civil life, brought about by a revolutionary emancipation, was depicted as an essential factor in the de-Christianization that threatened contemporary society. And this attitude was itself influenced by all of the old formulas and motifs drawn from Christian theological and religious discourse about the Jews’ stubbornness and blindness, their guilt for deicide, their innate immorality and corruption, and their antipathy toward Christians. A tradition survived, then, that identified the Church with the desire to staunch the processes of modernity, which it equated with de-Christianization and general secularization; and that tied all of this to “the Jews,” to militant anticlericalism, and to revolutionary utopian or socialist ideas. In other words, the Jews were considered the bearers of a threat to the “political and spiritual” power of the Church.[15]

The Catholic polemics of the immediate postwar period in Italy again posited the image of the masses, perceived as being preyed upon by a new anticlericalism, easily manipulated by “the principal enemy of true democracy and of its ideal of liberty and equality.”[16] This was an attitude that left no room for fine shadings and distinctions, but on the contrary bonded to the fears and preoccupations (principally, the fear of Communism’s spread) that had first arisen during the course of the war.

Even if they were toned down, the positions expressed in the encyclical Divini Redemptoris of 1937 continued to hold after the war and were invested by the Church with militant significance in its holy war against Communism—if no longer international, as during the Spanish Civil War, then at least domestic.[17]

The Church had a real difficulty in perceiving and understanding the enormity of what had happened to the Jews precisely because it was so deeply wedded to an uncompromising battle for supremacy against the secularism and anti-clericalism of the Left. Its openness and tolerance toward Fascism and Nazism were constituted by the conviction that somehow, as Moro put it, “the new inclination to spiritual values demonstrated by the totalitarian ideologies of the Right opened the road to a return of the true faith.” [18]

In a certain sense, the Church’s silence about the deportation and extermination of the Jews hung over the entire pontificate of Pius XII. The pope’s appeal to the faithful in April 1945 was a simple call for a general “pacification of souls,” defining the “cruel . . . atrocities committed” and the war itself as “the fruit and wages of sin.” [19]

The tendency was to speak in terms of general crimes against humanity, without ever using the word “Jews.”[20]

Consider, for example, this excerpt from the pages of L’Osservatore Romano:

The reports obtained from various sources provide a moving picture of the general conditions of the masses of internees, men and women of every age, children on the verge of exhaustion. Especially poignant are those who still remain without a homeland, of whom there are quite a few. . . . Many others, because of the demoralization suffered in so many years of imprisonment, find it hard to make the effort to resume the state of mind and habits of civil and Christian society.[21]

Or consider this piece from La Civilta` Cattolica:

Returning from the mission on behalf of the prisoners of war and internees in Germany, Monsignor Carol offered several reports on the work of Christian charity . . . to succor so many victims of the war. . . . The Pontifical Mission cares for everyone, without distinction of nationality or religious faith . . . 8,000 Poles, including 450 priests. [22]

In addition, on June 2, 1945, the pope, in his first sermon in Saint Peter’s Square after the end of the war in Europe, continued to call only for Christian charity and forgiveness, using vehement language to condemn the “anti-Christianism” of the period. In his view, the main cause of the war was the Nazi anti-Christianism that had been unloosed in all its violence, especially against the Catholic Church. The evil of the war and its terrible consequences were reduced to the simple fact of having denied God:

Truly the fight against the Church became more and more bitter: there was the destruction of the Catholic organizations; . . . there was the forced separation of young people from the family and from the Church: . . . there was the systematic denigration of the Church, of the clergy, of the faithful, of its institutions, of its doctrine, of its history.[23]

At the focus of the persecution were unspecified “political detainees,” along with “the cohorts of those, both clergy and laity, whose only crime was loyalty to Christ and to the faith of the Fathers or the courageous fulfillment of their priestly duties.”[24] According to the pope, the Church was denounced by Nazism as the enemy of the German people:

The manifest injustice of the accusation would have wounded to the quick the feelings of the German Catholics, as well as Our own, if uttered by other lips; but on those of such accusers, far from being an indictment, they were the most shining and most honorable testimony of the Church’s firm and constant opposition to such noxious doctrines and methods.[25]

The need to defend the Church’s policy of silence, of discretion, of cautious and circumspect deploring of German Nazism, was not born after the end of the war.

Already in 1944, the Vatican Information Office edited a volume, La Chiesa e la guerra (The Church and the war), based on a series of articles previously published in the magazine Ecclesia, brought out in September 1942 to illustrate the work of The Church and the Memory of the Shoah: The Catholic Press in Italy, 1945–1947 25 Pius XII on behalf of war victims. The charges of collaboration with Nazi Germany originated, naturally and principally, with the Soviet Union, as did the allegations, made in March 1945, that the bishops of northern Italy had supported the Fascists and Nazis—which, according to La Civilta` Cattolica, ignored “the ever more serious persecution that the Catholic hierarchy had had to confront in the North, precisely because it had not denied its moral support to the many Catholic patriots who had opposed the invader.” [26]

In 1945, another text, The Activity of the Holy See between December 15, 1943 and December 15, 1944, was published. After a systematic chronology “of the work accomplished by the Holy Father” and a look at particular aspects “of the wonderful sermons that the Supreme Pontiff of the Church

has not deprived the world of,” it illustrated in a few lines the pope’s present “great work . . . in the midst of the conflict, whether with the accents of his fatherly word or with his vast program of assistance,” on behalf of the victims. [27]

Numerous articles in La Civilta` Cattolica documented the efforts by Pius XII to keep Italy out of the war.[28] Doubts, perplexity, and the wish that things had happened otherwise brought the Vatican to underline its frequent skirmishes with Nazi Germany; religious (anti-Christian) persecution in Germany and the other territories occupied by the Reich; the earlier diplomatic protest by Pius XI against violations of the Concordat; the condemnation of doctrinal racism; the tension with the regime (arising repeatedly, yet always contained by Pius XII at the level of diplomatic notes); and the assistance rendered by the clergy and the Vatican to victims of persecution. The Church tried to grant itself a “patent of nobility,” as Giovanni Miccoli put it, a testimony of active opposition to Nazism. The desired image was that of a Church that had done what was possible, given the ferocity of the Nazis.

Above all, it had to be shown that any other course of action by the Church would have produced even worse results.[29]

This stance remained in place during the Nuremberg trials, which began in November 1945. L’Osservatore Romano and La Civilta` Cattolica gave scant attention to the extermination of the Jews even after horrifying revelations emerged during the trial.[30]

La Civilta` Cattolica spoke of matters pertaining to law, of the problems raised by the issue of “victors’ justice”: It is only too true that the war was hard and undoubtedly certain cruelties ought to have been prohibited, [and] every need to justify them must be barred. . . . Here, at any rate, there is a good measure of agreement for the future; but how can punishment be imposed for the violation of a law that did not yet exist when the act was committed? Consider the example of the atom bomb: which is more than rockets, reprisals, indiscriminate bombings! Yet no one thinks about punishing the airmen, the general staff, or the American industrialists. Why? Because even if the use of these execrable means of slaughter and destruction were to be banned today, the law would apply for tomorrow, not for yesterday. The same here, then.[31]

“Modern and total war” was the key to explaining the death and destruction caused by Germany—which, even if responsible on the political plane (having been the first to apply match to powder) was still, according to La Civilta` Cattolica, historically constrained.[32] Judicial disquisitions, diplomatic considerations, scientific discoveries, and historical relativity were all invoked:

The world has certainly been horrified by the multiple crimes perpetrated by the Nazi armies; but also of those committed by or alleged against the other side. In the modern age, people first spoke of crimes against humanity after the massacres, the political and religious persecutions, the reduction to slave labor that took place in one of the countries [namely, the Soviet Union] that is now sitting in judgment at Nuremberg. [But] even during the war, prisoners were mistreated by all sides. Famine has raged in Russia and Algeria—and not only famine.[33]

This remained the tone of the newspaper in its coverage of the Nuremberg trials: its consistent focus was on questions of international law.[34] Not even the discovery of the atrocities committed during the war was allowed to modify the balance of such judgments.

The postwar Church was clearly interested in a policy that gave space, weight, and influence to ecclesiastical discourse and therefore knowingly chose to conduct a dialogue with those groups in Europe willing to engage in a common antisubversive, anti-socialist, and anti-communist effort. Internalization of the “lessons” of Fascism took only one form: a vigorous struggle to organize, to “close ranks, to create a more capable resistance to the de-Christianization of modern civilization,” to penetrate once again to the social grass roots of society.[35] The future was represented by the Church, the sole repository of the true Christian spirit, whose political identity posited that what was good for the Church was good for the people, and vice versa. Political identity and religious identity thus became one and the same, and they were built, as Miccoli put it, on the notions of a “full temporal realization, that is, of a regime organized according to the precepts of Christian doctrine,” according to which the Church had the dual role of providing supreme guidance in life while orienting the social order.[36] There was to be no pause for reflection about the past; only current affairs seemed to interest the Church. This attitude demanded a significant commitment of organizational and cultural resources.[37]

In fact, the postwar years saw the proliferation of Catholic social associations, to which the Church assigned a constant vigilance on the political front.[38] Thus, in those years there were frequent public appeals by Pius XII, sermons delivered and published in Civilta` Cattolica that addressed the entire Catholic laity, referred to as “the people of Rome, from the Christian associations of the young people of Catholic Action to those of the Christian laborers of both sexes.”[39]

In a speech to the Christian Workers’ Association, Pius XII referred to cells of the modern Christian apostolate, . . . who, in the world of labor, maintain, cultivate, and care for the religious and moral foundations of life against the enemies of Christ who exploit all the difficulties and questions of the workingman’s life in order to win the soul of the Christian worker, to mislead his conscience, and ultimately to detach and distance him from the divine Savior. . . . Without those Christian virtues, the working class would become its own worst enemy. . . . In the struggle against this peril the Christian associations . . . will be the nursery of the social virtues, of righteousness, of faithfulness, of conscientiousness and will provide other institutions with their best members.[40]

Calls for political confidence and moderation were accompanied by an appeal to organize in order to confront destructive tendencies and mass movements in the political struggle of tomorrow:

The Church and the Memory of the Shoah: The Catholic Press in Italy, 1945–1947 27 Catholics must prepare and organize themselves in legally constituted groups in order to make themselves fit to participate in national government and life, so that their place will not be on the side of the anti-national and Bolshevik or anti-Catholic parties that will never truly realize the people’s good, but only the interests of the party. [41]

In another instance, La Civilta` Cattolica posed the problem of postwar reconstruction in Europe as a pretext for denouncing the dictatorship and armed might of the Soviet Union, which shared responsibility for the war with Nazi Germany.[42]

The anti-communist campaign exerted a preponderant influence on the political and religious discourse of the Church: no relations could be permitted between Catholic forces and the anti-clerical parties.[43] On this point, Alcide de Gasperi, the leader of the Christian Democrats, in a note dated November 12, 1946, following a meeting with a senior Vatican official identified only by the letter “M” (probably Monsignor Montini, the future Pope Paul VI), wrote that the latter had told him, “evidently on orders from above,” that “any collaboration whatsoever with the anticlerical parties, not only by the commune [city council] of Rome but also by the government, would no longer be permissible.” If the Christian Democrats persisted “in such collaborations” it would be considered a hostile party and would no longer enjoy the support or sympathy of the Church.[44]

A stand had to be taken against the Communist threat: From Roman soil the first Peter, surrounded by the threats of a perverted imperial power, launched his proud cry of alarm: to resist the mighty in faith. On this very same soil we repeat today with redoubled energy the cry to you, whose native city is now the scene of incessant efforts aimed at weakening the struggle among the opposing sides: either with Christ or against Christ; either for His Church or against His Church.[45]

The themes and antitheses of a crusade—the sons of light against the sons of darkness—linked back to a discourse begun in the late 1930s. Together they buried, for the moment, all memories of the war, including all those associated with the deportation and extermination of the Jews.


The attitude of the Church throughout the pontificate of Pius XII was, above all, political and pragmatic rather than theological. Beginning in 1958, the papacy of John XXIII marked a new phase in the relations between the Church and the Italian state: the integralism of Pius XII was replaced by a different notion of the Church, tied more to its pastoral and spiritual role than to its anti-communist political vocation.

The changes introduced by John’s pontificate and Vatican II; the shattering, in the 1960s, of the unity of attitude and execution within the institutional Church; the juxtaposition of diverse conceptions and processes in the relations between the hierarchy and laity, all made it possible for older, historically entrenched ideas and practices to diminish. Even if they were not totally abandoned, they were nevertheless redefined, debated, refuted, and combated.[46]

Any assessment of the positions taken by the Church and its postwar silence about the destruction of European Jewry must take into account the doctrinal and ideological tradition built and founded, since the French Revolution, on the conflict between Church and modernity—a tradition that sought to juxtapose the ecclesiastical institution with human history, and which understood history as an arena of combat against absolute alienation from truth, the rejection of Christian values, and the triumph of the non-Christian and anti-Christian cultures.[47] At the end of the Second World War, as Miccoli points out very clearly, thinking within the Church was still dominated by the apologetic historical syntheses of the 19th century, in which the sequence leading from Enlightenment, Reform, and Freemasonry to the French Revolution, liberalism, and socialism described stages in the progressive estrangement of society from the teachings of Christ. All cultures and ideologies were classified according to the Christian versus anti-Christian or non-Christian scheme, in a vision of humanity’s moving away from the paths marked out by the Church. In this conceptual system, as Miccoli argues, two ancient theologies of history, restated in politicized terms, were readily identified as mutually exclusive.

Church and synagogue, city of God and city of Satan—these seemed to be the only true protagonists of a combat that had history for its theater, and in which all men were called upon to rally to one side or the other.[48] Thus, “Bolshevik Communism” became merely another item to add to the charges leveled against international Judaism.[49] Even if the Church was critical of genocidal Nazi anti-Semitism (perceived as anti-Christian in spirit and form), it was still prepared to maintain that the prime cause of antagonism toward Jews lay in their own behavior, in their intolerable and unjustified political, economic, and cultural domination. Moreover, the Holy See refused to view its own hostility as racist, since it objected not to Jewish “blood” but rather to the Jews’ theological error.[50]

The silence of the Church did not apply specifically and exclusively to the Jews. It had a more general character and can be related to the entire problem of the violence and killing committed by the Fascists and Nazis during the war. This lack of comment (or, perhaps, comprehension) was associated, furthermore, with a conception of the world and not merely with an “intentional” devaluing of the Shoah, relativized within the great sea of calamities associated with the war. This attitude held constant in the reconstructions of memory immediately after the war and gained strength during the Cold War.

Qualifying the persecutions, deportations, and extermination of the Jews only in general and global terms, as, for instance, “vicissitudes of terrestrial conflicts, . . . political contrasts,” was also a way to fathom the foreignness of the world. All the events of those years were collectively bound up with the historical sins of an anti-Christian or non-Christian humankind, for which the Church was not responsible— thereby laying aside the specific atrocities of the racial legislation, of the racial and political persecution, and of the extermination of the Jews. Assistance to the Jews during the war took place in the context of solitary acts of “individual charity” that, given the enormity of the catastrophe, were marginal, incomplete, and impotent.

Such acts were never transformed into a strong and clear “political charity,” into a prophetic effort in history, an unmitigated defense not of individual rights but of the rights of all human beings.[51] This, I suggest, is what lay behind the silence that persisted, as well, after the war.



[1] I refer here specifically to the Jesuit publication La Civilta` Cattolica (hereafter: CC), of 1937–1939 and to L’Osservatore Romano of 1938–1939.

[2] On the problematic relationship between the Church and European society after the war, see the following important studies: Giovanni Miccoli, Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione: sul rapporto chiesa-societa` nell’eta` contemporanea (Casale Monferrato: 1985); idem, “Santa Sede questione ebraica e antisemitismo fra Otto e Novecento,” in Storia d’Italia, vol. 2, Gli ebrei in Italia, ed. Corrado Vivanti (Turin: 1997), 1371–1574; Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965 (Bloomington: 2000); Giovanni Miccoli, Guido Neppi Modona, and Paolo Pombeni (eds.), La grande cesura: la memoria della guerra e della resistenza nella vita europea del dopoguerra (Bologna: 2001); Renato Moro, La Chiesa e lo sterminio degli ebrei (Bologna: 2002); Susan Zuccotti, “L’Osservatore Romano and the Holocaust 1939–1945,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17, no. 2 (2003), 249–277.

[3] Corporative political postures historically valorized precapitalist, premodern social and economic values: the mutual duties and standards of equity of the (idealized) past were compared with the pernicious values of capitalist accumulation and profit-taking, on the one hand, and destructive class-conflict theories of social revolution, on the other.

[4] For example, in L’Unita`, the organ of the Italian Communist party, a detailed account of the “extermination camp near Lublin” appeared on December 8, 1945. In this article, Majdanek was referred to as “the largest slaughterhouse in the world” and a “death camp for the Jews.” Many other articles appeared on this subject over the next few weeks, usually featured on the front page; see L’Unita` for the following dates: 16–21 Jan. 1945; 23 Jan. 1945; 25–28 Jan. 1945; 1 Feb. 1945; and 3 Feb. 1945. Articles also appeared in the organ of the Socialist party, L’Avanti—see, for example, the issue of 20 April 1945. A Roman daily, Il Giornale del Mattino, published an article on the liberation of Bergen-Belsen on April 19. See also the articles by Paolo Alatri on the camps of Ohrdruf, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, and Nordhausen (Il Messagero [13 May 1945]). The experiences of Leone Fiorentino, the first Roman Jew to return from the hell of Auschwitz, also received great play in the Italian press (for particulars of his life, see Liliana Picciotto Fargion, Il libro della memoria: gli ebrei deportati dall’Italia (1943–1945) [Milan: 1991], 273). Israel printed a long interview with him (31 May 1945), and both L’Italia libera (29 May 1945) and L’Unita` (30 May 1945) published his testimony on the front page. Even Il Corriere della sera and La Stampa, which had been affiliated with the Fascist regime, confronted the terrible reality of the concentration camps in the late summer of 1945. The former, which had maintained its name and typographic appearance even under Fascism, suspended publication between the end of April and the end of May 1945, and then reappeared as Il Corriere di Informazione. (La Stampa suspended publication on April 25, 1945, and resumed publication in the middle of July 1945). All of these papers made use of the reports published by the foreign press and news agencies, especially English-language agencies such as the International News Service and United Press of London.

[5] “The war declared on the Jews by Hitler and his followers, outside and inside the borders of Germany, is not in fact merely a struggle of armed men against the defenseless, … [but also] an enormous machine guided by a madman and intent on crushing without mercy men and women, old people and infants, to achieve the goal of total annihilation and total despoiling” (Israel [7 Dec. 1944], 1).

[6] Carlo A. Viterbo, Israel (8 March 1945), 1. Two significant articles appeared that same day: the first, a list of the Jews deported from Rome; the second, a review, also signed by Viterbo, of the anonymous 16-page pamphlet, Nove mesi di martirio: la tragedia degli ebrei sotto il terrore tedesco, which documented the persecution of the Jews of Rome. The lead item was a piece commemorating a massacre that had taken place on August 1, 1944. On this day, the Nazis had murdered Giuseppe Pardo Roques—the deputy mayor of Pisa, who was also a prestigious Jewish philanthropist and the president of the local Jewish community— along with 11 others, six of them Jews.

Israel also published two reports produced by the Deportee Search Committee, which was established at the end of 1944 to document the deportation of the Jews from Italy. Its report on the Fossoli di Carpi transit camp appeared on March 26, 1945; a description of the Auschwitz death camp was featured in the paper on April 12, 1945. Five days later, on April 19, the paper published the first reports on the arrival of Jews in Stockholm, survivors of Bergen-Belsen (transcribed as “Berghen Blasen”) and Birkenau (“Bircaneau”). These appeared on p. 2 of the newspaper, the front page being devoted to an announcement placed by the Deportee Search Committee concerning the arrival in Bucharest of other Jewish survivors of Os´wie¸cim (spelled “Oszviencim”). On May 1, 1945, the committee received information about other survivors provided by the foreign ministry (via the Italian embassy in Moscow). See Dante Lattes, “Dobbiamo ancora avere fiducia negli uomini,” Israel (3 and 10 May 1945).

[7] Israel (10 May 1945).

[8] Eleven such books were published in 1945, 14 in 1946, and three in 1947; two essays by Giacomo Debenedetti, titled “16 ottobre” and “Otto ebrei” (the former written and published in November, the latter in September 1945) should also be noted. See Manuela Consonni, “Memory and History: War, Resistance, and Shoah in Italy 1945–1985” (Ph.D. diss.,The Hebrew University, 2002), ch. 1, “The Open Years: 1945–1947,” 25–55; Anna Bravo and Federico Jalla, Una misura onesta: gli scritti di memoria dell a deportazione dall’Italia 1944–1993 (Milan: 1993).

[9] Paolo Liggeri, Triangolo Rosso: dalle carceri di S. Vittore ai campi di concentarmento e di eliminazione di Fossoli, Bolzano, Mauthausen, Gusen, Dachau (Milan: 1946). The review appeared in CC 97 (21 Sept. 1946), 429–430.

[10] It is only in the review of a book by Benedetto Laddei, Gli ebrei nella realta` e fuori della relta`: ricerca e proposta di una soluzione integrale attuale del problema dei pochi tra i molti (Rome: 1946), that Jews are mentioned, but even here the reference is to anti-Semitism rather than extermination. The review appeared in CC on October 19, 1945.

[11] After the attack on Poland, both the Allies and the neutral press quickly began denouncing the atrocities committed by the Nazis, especially the persecution of the Jews and the ever more systematic massacres that characterized it. Papal nuncios, German bishops, and the bishops and clergy of countries occupied by Germany represented another source of information. Though one might perhaps question the numbers and be unaware of the details, the catastrophic result of the anti-Jewish campaign could not be ignored. Alongside material transmitted by the Allies and international Jewish organizations, as early as Oct. 7, 1942, a report by Don Pirro Scavizzi added new and detailed information about the situation in Poland, which supplemented his report of May: The elimination of the Jews, with the murder of almost the entire population, with no regard for children, not even nursing infants. . . . Before being deported or murdered they are condemned to forced heavy labor. . . . It is said that more than two million Jews have been killed. . . . Poles are being allowed to move into houses in the ghetto, which is depopulated day by day by means of the systematic massacre of Jews (Actes et documents du Saint Sie`ge relatifs a` la seconde guerre mondiale [11 volumes of archival material published by the Vatican between 1965 and 1981], 8:669; quoted in Miccoli, Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione, 138).

[12] This attitude was linked to the theoretical, doctrinal, and political apparatus that originated during the papacy of Leo XIII (1878–1903), whose traditions were simply carried on by Pius XII. One example of this is the Christmas radio broadcast of 1945, in which Pius XII cited Leo XIII’s 1888 encyclical Libertas. After a brief reference to the horrors and tragedies of the war, the pope proceeded to address political problems and the question of democracy: “It is scarcely necessary to record that according to the teachings of the Church,‘it is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power’ and that ‘of the various forms of government, the Church does not reject any that are fitted to procure the welfare of the subject’ ” (“Christmas Radio Broadcast to the People of the Entire World on the Sixth Christmas of the War,” CC 96 [6 Jan. 1945], 4 [English of passage from Leo XIII, Libertas (20 June 1888), §44, online at encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_20061888_libertas_en.html]).

[13] Giovanni Miccoli, “La Chiesa e il fascismo,” in idem, Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione, 11–13; Pietro Scoppola, “La Chiesa e il fascismo durante il pontificato di Pio XI,” in idem, Coscienza religiosa e democrazia nell’Italia contemporanea (Bologna: 1966), 300–320; idem, La Chiesa e il fascismo: documenti e testimonianze (Bari: 1971), 352.

[14] The Church had always subscribed to the idea of special legislation regarding the Jews, considering it a step forward as compared with the legal equality of the liberal era, a stage toward the abolition of the chaos created by a false and dangerous notion of liberty and equality. Whereas in past centuries the principles and traditions of the Church had been promoted by a legal situation in which the Jews were not treated like other citizens, in the modern era, Judaism was viewed as one of the major authors of the secular, liberal, and revolutionary ideology that was responsible for society’s current disasters. Actes et documents du Saint Sie`ge relatifs a` la seconde guerre mondiale, 9:459, quoted in Miccoli, Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione, 330.

[15] Aversion to modernity also characterized the link between the Church and Fascism. Saul Friedlander has underlined the anti-modern aspect of Fascism, noting that it was “the result of the crisis of a society that was passing from a traditional framework to that of industrialism, a rebellion designed to deliberately create an archaic utopia” (Friedlander, Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death, trans. from the French by Thomas Weyr [New York: 1984], 4).

[16] “Christmas Radio Broadcast to the People of the Entire World on the Sixth Christmas of the War,” 6.

[17] In Divini Redemptoris, issued on March 11, 1937, Pope Pius XI reaffirmed the social and religious doctrine of the Church and restated the absolute incompatibility of the Christian worldview with the “Communist plague”: It is conceded that, if the only possible choice was between atheistic international Communism, on the one hand, and pagan National Socialism, on the other; or between Bolshevism and Fascism, as they are called, the conclusion of every reasonable man could not be in doubt. Because the lesser evil, even if it cannot be approved positively, is, notwithstanding, always to be tolerated in preference to the worse evil, being, in this respect or particular consideration, as St. Thomas says, something good: aliquid boni (“L’Eco alla lettera collettiva dei vescovi spagnoli,” CC 58 [1937], 290). It is well known that the Church had been afraid to weaken Germany in the latter’s fight against Soviet Russia. See Saul Friedla¨nder, Pius XII and the Third Reich: A Documentation, trans. from the French and German by Charles Fullman (New York: 1966), 163 and 166; see also the problematic study by Daniel J. Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (New York: 2002).

[18] Renato Moro, “Il peso di una mentalita`,” in La Chiesa e lo sterminio degli ebrei, 196.

[19] “Allocuzione al popolo di Roma,” CC 96 (7 April 1945), 7–9.

[20] Moro, “Il peso di una mentalita`,” in La Chiesa e lo sterminio degli ebrei, 200.

[21] L’Osservatore Romano (29 June 1945).

[22] “Cronaca Contemporanea: Missione caritativa pontificia in Germania,” CC 96 (7 July 1945), 126.

[23] “Allocuzione del Santo Padre al Sacro Collegio,” CC 96 (16 June 1945), 370–371.

[24] Ibid., 373. The article went on to provide a detailed list of the Polish priests imprisoned in Dachau between 1940 and 1945, including “the auxiliary bishop of Wladyslawa,” 32 who died there of typhus. This particular item was an error, as there is no town in Poland by the name of Wladyslawa. According to The New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: 1967), 11:481–483, “13 Polish bishops were exiled or arrested and put in concentration camps. Of these the following died: Auxiliary Bishop Leon Wetman´ski of Płock on May 10, 1941, and Archbishop Antoni Nowowiejski of Płock on June 20, 1941, in Soldau (Działdowo); Auxiliary Bishop Michał Kozal of Włocławek on Jan. 26, 1943, in Dachau; Auxiliary Bishop Władysław Goral of Lublin at the beginning of 1945 in a hospital bunker in Berlin.”

[25] Ibid., 374.

[26] L’Osservatore Romano (16 Feb. 1945); “Cronaca Contemporanea,” CC 96 (17 Mar. 1945), 387.

[27] L’attivita` della S. Sede dal 15 dicembre 1943 al 15 dicembre 1945 (Rome: 1945); CC 96 (16 June 1945), 432. In this context, see also the soulful tribute of the grateful Romans to the Supreme Pontiff, as described in another book published in 1946: Leone Gessi, Roma, la guerra, il Papa (Rome: 1945).

[28] See CC 96 for the following dates: 5 May; 2 and 16 June; 7 and 21 July; 4 Aug.; 1 and 15 Sept.; 20 Oct.; 1 and 15 Dec. 1945.

[29] Miccoli, Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione, 133.

[30] L’Osservatore Romano (1945); CC 96 (1945). See also CC 97 for the following dates: 2 Mar. (pp. 332–342); 4 May (pp. 186–197); 15 June (pp. 404–416); 6 July (pp. 358–364); 20 July (pp. 92–106); 3 Aug. (pp. 213–214); 17 Aug. (pp. 295–296). See also Moro, “Il peso di una mentalita`,” 195–208.

[31] S. Lener, S.J., “Del mancato giudizio del Kaiser al processo di Norimberga,” CC 97 (2 March 1946), 335.

[32] Ibid.

[33] S. Lener, S.J., “Diritto e politica nel processo di Norimberga,” CC 97 (19 Oct. 1946), 101.

[34] S. Lener, S.J., “Delitti contro l’umanita`,” CC 97 (19 Jan. 1946), 186–197; “Le supreme barriere del diritto e I delitti contro l’umanita`,” ibid. (21 Dec. 1946), 404–416.

[35] Miccoli, “La Chiesa e il fascismo,” 113.

[36] Giovanni Miccoli, “Cattolici e comunisti nel secondo dopoguerra: memoria storica, ideologia e lotta politica,” in Miccoli et al., La grande cesura, 39–40; Paolo Blasina, “Resistenza, guerra, fascismo nel cattolicesimo italiano (1943–1948),” in ibid., 123–193.

[37] Even the philosopher Benedetto Croce, in a letter to The Times published in Il Risorgimento Liberale, affirmed that in order to establish a durable peace it was necessary to always keep in mind that only spiritual assets are effective and lasting, and that if so many empires and so many political hegemonies have succeeded one another in history, Christianity has not fallen and will not fall, a perpetual font of redemption and of renewal, and the modern world needs above all an enthusiastic rekindling in a moral state, of a Christian spiritual reawakening” (Il Risorgimento Liberale [7 April 1945]).

[38] Scoppola, “La chiesa e il fascismo, durante il ponificato di Pio XI,” 370.

[39] “Allocuzione del S. S. Pio XII ai giovani romani di Azione Cattolica sull’incolumita` dell’Urbe,” CC 96 (7 July 1945); “Allocuzione del S. Padre alle lavoratrici cristiane,” ibid. (1 Sept. 1945), 265–268; “Allocuzione di Pio XII alle associazioni cristiane dei lavorator italiani,” ibid. (7 April 1945). The speeches and the appeals continued in 1946 and throughout 1947. See CC 97 (1946) and 98 (1947).

[40] “Allocuzione di Pio XII alle associazioni cristiane dei lavoratori italiani,” 3–6. In this speech, too, Pius XII relied on ecclesiastical tradition, referring to the encyclical Quadrigesimo Anno of Pius XI, which itself mentioned the “immortal” encyclical Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII

[41] Luigi Ganapini, I cattolici nella crisi del 1943, 50, quoted in Miccoli, Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione, 380.

[42] According to an article published in CC: The Church and the Memory of the Shoah: The Catholic Press in Italy, 1945–1947 33. In the summer of 1939, the situation would have become so complex as to drive Poland into war, had Germany not concluded the celebrated friendship pact with Soviet Russia that was so highly praised by the totalitarian press. This accord gave Hitler and the German high command the necessary guarantee that it would not have to fight simultaneously on two fronts, so that, with Poland beaten in a few weeks, it could then turn to the West with its back covered by Russian neutrality (A. Messineo, “Le incognite della ricostruzione europea,” CC 96 [7 July 1945], 6). See also idem, “L’aspetto morale dei piani economici,” ibid. (7 April 1945), 10. At the same time, as Palmiro Togliatti noted in April 1945, the Italian political scene was absolutely anti-revolutionary, being “a country that because of the fusion of more advanced elements of financial capitalism with feudal vestiges” still had “profoundly reactionary characteristics” (Togliatti, Politica comunista: discorsi e documenti, aprile 1944–agosto 1945 [Rome: 1945], 282). See also Luigi Salvatorelli, “La Chiesa e il Fascismo,” Il Ponte 6 (1950), 594–605.

[43] On the anti-Communist campaign, see CC and L’Osservatore Romano of 1945–1947. More specifically, see “Allocuzione natalizia del S.S. Pio XII al S. Collegio sui problem della pace,” CC 98 (4 Jan. 1947), 3–12

[44] Pietro Scoppola, “De Gasperi e la svolta politica del May 1947,” Il Mulino 23 (1974); idem, “La crisi della collaborazione con i ‘social-comunisti,’ ” in his La proposta politica di De Gasperi (Bologna: 1977), 310. See also Paul Ginzborg, Storia del dopoguerra a oggi: Societa` e Politica 1943–1988 (Turin: 1989). An editorial signed by Father Lombardi, a confidant of Pius XII, expressed satisfaction with the results of the elections on June 2, according to which Italy had retrieved “its soul,” thanks to the presence of the Christian Democracy, which had protected the rights of the Church, and the Lateran Pacts [the Concordat of 1929], placing the accent on reconciliation between Fascists and anti-Fascists, on overcoming the past and partisan hatreds. This last had a clear objective: a union of all the “good” and all the “honorable” [forces in society] to confront Marxist materialism and Communism (R. Lombardi. S.J., “Il materialismo dialettico, filosofia dei comunisti,” CC 97 [15 June 1946], 105–112). See also: “Il materialismo storico,” ibid., 261–270; “La storia dell’umanita` secondo il materialism storico,” CC 97 (5 Jan. 1946), 24–34; “Il programma politico comunista,” ibid. (16 Nov. 1946), 276–284; ibid. (2 March 1946), 347–358; “Discussione del programma comunista,” ibid. (3 Aug. 1946), 162–173; “Discussione del materialismo dialettico,” ibid. (19 Jan. 1946), 263–276; ibid. (21 Sept. 1946), 420–429; “L’ora presente e l’Italia,” CC 98 (4 Jan. 1947), 13–20. Lombardi’s articles and public interviews are quite important because of his close ties with Pius XII.

[45] Pius XII, Christmas goodwill message delivered in St. Peter’s Square, 22 Dec. 1946, recorded in Il Popolo (23 Dec. 1946), 1.

[46] In July 1963, Pope John XXIII issued his last and most important encyclical, Pacem in Terris, a call for international reconciliation and the refusal to accept the frontiers erected by the Cold War. The spirit of this message was contrary to the calls by Pius XII for a holy war to defend the Christian West against the atheistic and Communist East. The encyclical was addressed to “all men of good will,” not only to Catholics, and underlined the need for cooperation among persons of different religious and ideological creeds. What is more, it expressed the hope for an improvement in economic conditions and social development for the working classes, favored the entrance of women into public life, and demonstrated significant understanding of the anticolonial struggles in the Third World.

[47] Moro, “Il peso di una mentalita`,” 205.

[48] Miccoli, “La Chiesa e il fascismo,” 131–137.

[49] Renzo De Felice, Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo (Turin: 1961), 39–41.

[50] Giovanni Miccoli, “La Chiesa nella II guerra mondiale,” in Fra mito della cristianita` e secolarizzazione, 284. Miccoli describes how, in March 1928, the Holy Office dissolved the Friends of Israel, a group of mainly Dutch and Italian Catholics (including several bishops and cardinals) that had proposed reviewing the relationship between Christians and Jews in an attempt to combat antisemitism. With this in mind, the Holy Office included in its decree of dissolution an explicit condemnation of antisemitism—the only such condemnation to be found in official documents of the Roman college before the end of the Second World War. It stated: The Catholic Church has always been accustomed to pray for the Jewish people, the trustee, until the coming of Jesus Christ, of the divine promise, despite its later blindness concerning this very matter. Moved by this spirit of charity, the Apostolic See protected that same people against unjust oppression and, just as it censures all hatreds and animosity among peoples, it utterly condemns hatred of a people once elected by God,the hatred that today is vulgarly given the name of “antisemitism” (decree dated 25 March 1928, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis [2 April 1928], 103 f.). The Italian text of this decree appeared in CC 79 (1928), 2:171f. However, it did not lead to any real improvement in the image of the Jews that was held by Christians.

[51] Moro, “Il peso di una mentalita`,” 205.


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