PopeWatch: La Vanguardia Interview-Pius XII

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Continuing on with our examination of the La Vanguardia interview, we look at the words of Pope Francis in defense of Pius XII.

 

 

One of your projects is to open the Vatican archives on the Holocaust.

They will bring a lot of light.   

Does it worry you something could be discovered?

What worries me regarding this subject is the figure of Pius XII, the Pope that led the Church during World War II. They have said all sorts of things about poor Pius XII. But we need to remember that before he was seen as the great defender of the Jews. He hid many in convents in Rome and in other Italian cities, and also in the residence of Castel Gandolfo. Forty-two babies, children of Jews and other persecuted who sought refuge there were born there, in the Pope’s room, in his own bed. I don’t want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes – I myself make many – but one needs to see his role in the context of the time. For example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed or for him to speak? I also want to say that sometimes I get “existential hives” when I see that everyone takes it out against the Church and Pius XII, and they forget the great powers. Did you know that they knew the rail network of the Nazis perfectly well to take the Jews to concentration camps? They had the pictures. But they did not bomb those railroad tracks. Why? It would be best if we spoke a bit about everything.

While it is good to read these words in defense of Pius XII, and the record of Pius XII compares quite favorably to the actions of the major powers in regard to the Holocaust while it was going on, Pope Francis ends on a false note with the bombing of the train tracks to the death camps.  Such requests were rejected for fairly sound reasons.  First, targeting was so primitive for aerial bombardments in those days that destruction of the rail lines would have been difficult to accomplish without massive collateral damage.  Second, the Nazis could have merely brought in their victims by truck at the end of the undamaged rail line.  Third, the Nazis had the capability of repairing destroyed rail lines swiftly as they demonstrated time and again during the War.  Fourth, the extermination camps, but for one in the Ukraine, were all located in Poland, which was the extreme operating range of British and American bombers and would have meant for most of the war that the missions would have been flown without fighter escort.  Fifth, futility.  The Nazi regime was committed to exterminating Jews and others they deemed untermensch.  Bombing raids would not have been a silver bullet to stop them and would merely have caused the killing to be done elsewhere.  As Allied commanders indicated at the time, only the overthrow of the Nazi regime by a massive ground invasion was going to stop the crimes of Hitler and his gangsters.

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27 Comments

  1. Another factor: the use of Allied bombers against the Holocaust infrastructure would have resulted in Allied combat losses, and these losses would have contributed nothing to the overall ground victory that (as you point out) was the only real hope of ending the killing. In fact such combat losses could have impeded that victory.

    However, the issue of collateral damage was not really that important. The Jewish leaders who had proposed the bombing of the death camps had fully taken collateral damage into their request. They saw the risk of the death of some Jews by Allied bombs to be worth the goal of slowing down their murder by German gas. Back then many people were forced to make such painful decisions, and it is so unfortunate that people today are so quick to criticize the Allies for them. Today’s revisionism shows a serious lack of perspective and empathy for the victims of the Second World War. Let’s not give them more credence than they deserve.

  2. The victims in the death camps were not the only collateral damage possible. For example, the Auschwitz death camp sites surrounded the Polish town of Oswiecim. The deaths of other innocents would have been worth it if the bombing raids would have ended the Holocaust which they would not have.

  3. Bombing railroad tracks is one thing (not speaking about efficacy here), but the enthusiasms of certain “Jewish leaders” notwithstanding, bombing incarcerated innocent civilians in order to (theoretically) save a greater number of future innocents introduces an uncomfortable moral equation with implications of consequentialism.

  4. Uncomfortable moral equations with implications of consequentialism happened all the time in World War 2

  5. Hi Don, the Germans had constructed a sizeable buffer zone around Auschwitz, removing entire hamlets. Oswiecim would probably have been spared much damage and in any case had also been significantly (but not entirely) depopulated. The only death camp with a nearby at-risk civilian population was Majdanek.

    Still, I agree with the point of this thread. Given the practical realities you mention, the only valid reason for bombing the Holocaust infrastructure was chivalry, the idealized valuation of innocent civilian lives over the lives of the soldiers. Chivalry buys very little in modern warfare. Realism demanded that innocent civilian lives be saved by ending the war without delay of any kind. As events in the Ukraine showed, there were plenty of bullets available if the gas chambers or rail lines to them were destroyed.

  6. “Oswiecim would probably have been spared much damage and in any case had also been significantly (but not entirely) depopulated.”

    The Germans had removed 17,000 Poles from the Western precincts and that still left thousands of Poles in the town. The minimum safe distance to be away from a world war II bombing attack was 3000 yards as well established in the Operation Cobra carpet bombing fiasco. Two kilometers stood between the town and the death camp and one kilometer from the town and the I.G. Farber plant on the other side of the town. I think the town would have been creamed in any massive bombing raid.

  7. “Uncomfortable moral equations with implications of consequentialism happened all the time in World War 2.”

    Of course, and I’m not interested in facile second-guessing, but your post struck me as entirely too dismissive of the problem, both politically and morally. A proposal to bomb concentration camps would not have been considered a perfunctary moral matter.

  8. Is the I.G. Farben plant you mention the same as the camp known as the Buna-Werke? If so then it was bombed three times in hundred-plane raids and a fourth time in a raid half that size, all between August 20 and December 26 1944. The issue of collateral damage was not an issue in the planning of these raids. Total cumulative bomb weight in the four raids was probably around 1200 tons. But of course, the Farben plant contributed to the German war machine while the gas chambers did not.

  9. Mike Petrik, I didn’t mean to be too dismissive of the problem. One of the reasons the Vietnam War went sour and became less than a just war was that our people had become too dismissive of problems such as these after decades of global war both hot and cold. I was just countering the current dismissiveness that cuts the other way, and I’m glad that your “Of course…” puts us largely in the same position.

  10. On August 24 a bombing raid of a factory adjacent to Buchenwald killed 315 prisoners, severely wounded 525 and lightly wounded 900 others, in perfect bombing conditions and in a limited raid. A raid to smash the rail net of Auschwitz would not have been limited. One of the main rail intersections for Auschwitz was less than a half kilometer north of the Polish town.

  11. Good for Pope Francis to speak so well of his holy predecessor. It occurs to me that one good thing to come from Pope Francis speaking “off the cuff” so often is it seems to allow him more freedom from the scrutiny that would be applied to more formal methods of communication. I may be misremembering, but I don’t recall St. John Paul II or Benedict speaking as much about the devil and hell.

  12. Don, I have to write that your posts inspire me to look up the most amazing things. Your post on Buchenwald caused me to look up the Allied bombing of that camp, which led me to this item. Please allow the digression.

    The Goethe Oak
    The oak, in the middle of a beech forest, bore this name because it is supposedly was the tree under which Johann Goethe wrote “Wanderer’s Nightsong”, or, alternately, the location where he composed the Walpurgisnacht passages of his Faust. Quickly the fate of the oak became associated with the fate of Germany: legend held if the one was to fall, so would the other.
    The beech forest was cleared in 1937 to make way for the Buchenwald concentration camp. The oak was retained and stood in the center of the camp, and is reputed to have also served for the hanging and torture of prisoners. On August 24 1944 the tree was hit by an Allied incendiary bomb and burned all night long.
    The remains are now part of the Buchenwald memorial.

  13. Very interesting Tom!
    .
    Pope Francis seems to be defending the Church by pointing the finger of accusation at the Allies. Not a good defense really, but a distraction. Better to stand up for what we know of our pope and his work, and leave judgement of how nations waged the war to someone else.
    .
    Makes me wonder if he really does think Pius has a weak case along with his rear view mirror judgment of the allied leadership.

  14. “Pope Francis seems to be defending the Church by pointing the finger of accusation at the Allies. Not a good defense really, but a distraction.

    Now that you put it that way, the Pope’s statement clearly seems to be a tu quoque logical fallacy. I’ve been guilty of it myself, such as the times I’ve pointed out that the rate of pedophilia in the general population is four times that of Catholic priests (my intention is not to shift blame but rather to show that despite the Church’s negligence it must have done something right). I suppose it has some validity as a rhetorical point, but it doesn’t measure up for a convincing logical win.

  15. Well, fine of you to talk about futility. Pope Francis is absolutely right to point out the glaring existential problem in the Allies avoiding dealing with the destruction of lines to the death camps when they knew exactly where they were.

    “Oh, but what was the point? Those clever Nazis would have simply rebuilt them or did their killing elsewhere.” You can pare your fingernails in hindsight and keep your blinders on about the Allies’ moral failure during World War II, but perhaps recall that Francis may possibly be of a wiser dispensation then you, having access to the very archives he means to unveil.

    If the Allies were such poor bombers, and lacked specificity of targets, and cared about collateral damage, then why did they bomb innocent German civilians in German cities to smithereens at the war’s end? It is true that it was mostly the British bombers who carried out this massive carnage in full accord with their American counterparts, and the Russians took care of the dirty work on the ground, raping thousands of hapless German women and children.

    Take the blinders off, fellas, and stop defending the Allied crimes against humanity. The history books are indeed opening, and the true story of what happened during World War II has yet to be revealed.

    I find this simpering defense of “what was the use” not only insulting to average intelligence, but actually morally reprehensible. Thank God for sound minds like Pope Francis, who speaks a simple and honest truth, and doesn’t attempt to make limp excuses for Allied crimes.

  16. “but perhaps recall that Francis may possibly be of a wiser dispensation then you, having access to the very archives he means to unveil.”

    Total rubbish. The points I raised in the post would not be altered by “secret archives”.

    “then why did they bomb innocent German civilians in German cities to smithereens at the war’s end?”

    To win the war by smashing German cities containing German industry. If we had extended immunity from bombing or land attack to cities containing civilians we would have lost the War in short order and the world would now be a waking nightmare.

    “and the Russians took care of the dirty work on the ground, raping thousands of hapless German women and children.”

    Does your screed have a point or is this just stream of consciousness venting in defense of the throw away line of Pope Francis?

    “Take the blinders off, fellas, and stop defending the Allied crimes against humanity.”

    Pointing out that bombing Auschwitz or any of the other extermination camps would have been an exercise in futility is simply to state the obvious and not an attempt to defend “crimes”.

    “I find this simpering defense of “what was the use” not only insulting to average intelligence, but actually morally reprehensible.”

    I think you need to take a restore sanity pill pronto, or reinforce the padding in the room you obviously inhabit.

  17. Look, you can engage in ad hominem attacks all you wish, but my point remains. It is quite simple. We could have, and should have, bombed the rail tracks that led to the German death camps. We knowingly did not. All of your very lame excuses do not erase this glaring and obvious fact. It was a moral failing on the part of the Allies, and Pope Francis is right to make note of it.

    As for a “waking nightmare,” I suggest you remove your blinders. In the summer of 1943, British and American bombers launched an attack on the German city of Hamburg that was unlike anything the world had ever seen. For ten days they pounded the city with over 9,000 tons of bombs, with the intention of erasing it entirely from the map. The fires they created were so huge they burned for a month and were visible for 200 miles.

    The people of Hamburg had no time to understand what had hit them. As they emerged from their ruined cellars and air raid shelters, they were confronted with a unique vision of hell: a sea of flame that stretched to the horizon, the burned-out husks of fire engines that had tried to rescue them, roads that had become flaming rivers of melted tarmac. Even the canals were on fire.

    This is indeed a waking vision of hell, is it not? As was our bombing of Hiroshima. But I digress, I am avoiding the point that the American and Allied forces were so pure, so heroic, so good, and these atrocities were necessary to take out military targets.

    Sure they were.

  18. “Look, you can engage in ad hominem attacks all you wish, but my point remains.”

    You come to my blog and act like a nut in your initial comments and I guarantee I will give you a suitable reception.

    “We could have, and should have, bombed the rail tracks that led to the German death camps.”

    Which would have done absolutely no good if the purpose was to stop the extermination of the Jews and others marked for death by the Reich. You have not begun to make a case that such bombings would have accomplished anything other than to kill the prisoners in the camp and innocents in towns and villages near the bombed camp.

    “As for a “waking nightmare,” I suggest you remove your blinders.”

    Red herring since you are unable to make the case that bombing the camps would have accomplished anything, so you try to divert the discussion to a generalized attack on the morality of the Allied war effort.

    Of course no doubt if you had been in charge of the Allied war effort we would have won the War without causing massive death, and you will explain that all in due course after you finish your unicorn ride. Go peddle your worthless tripe elsewhere.

  19. CBurke, you are just wrong to accept the facts offered here, and here is the proof. Answer this, yes or no: could Allied bombing have prevented the SS massacres of Jews at Babi Yar? Assume that Stalin would have allowed his military to assist (so no loophole buddy). The answer is obviously no. Therefore, the successful bombing of the death camp infrastructure would have accomplished only one thing: the wide scale adoption of the SS tactics at Babi Yar to the rest of the Holocaust.

    Look, as I posted above, there is really only one reason to have tried. I called it chivalry, but another way to put it: “At least we tried, even though it didn’t work”. Such action would have prevented the recriminations you are making, but it would have opened up others (“All those Polish civilians killed, and for what? The Allies must have known that the poor Jews couldn’t be saved!”).

    Besides, it is militarily absurd to equate the death camp rail lines with Hamburg. First, the firestorm at Hamburg was a fluke. The Allies tried several times to recreate it but only succeeded twice. Second, the death camp rail lines and roads would have been more easily repaired than Hamburg could have been. The air crews would have had to return again and again to hit them, thus repeatedly avoiding other more militarily valid targets. The Germans would have moved in more anti-air artillery near the death camps, and more crews would have been lost.

    One thing that you don’t seem to get is the real desperation of those years. There was always the fear that excessive combat losses would have harmed the war effort. D-Day was almost cancelled because German e-boats caused the loss of three LSTs during a practice landing at Slapton Sands in April 1944. A real hope of Allied victory against Germany (the light at the end of the tunnel) became visible only near the end of 1944. The death camps were being dismantled by that point. So, what you are advocating would have required the Allied war planners to violate every effort they were making to end the war and the murders for a feel-good effort that would not have substantially worked anyway.

    “But I digress, I am avoiding the point that the American and Allied forces were so pure, so heroic, so good, and these atrocities were necessary to take out military targets. Sure they were. ”
    Nice ad hominem attack there yourself, buddy.

  20. …the Pope’s statement clearly seems to be a tu quoque logical fallacy.
    TomD

     
    The Pope’s statement only seems to be a tu quoque logical fallacy to those who forget that the Allies had armies, navies, and air forces that Pius XII did not.
     
    Maybe you’ve never heard the Sicilian saying that sometimes one can get farther with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.

    As for the claims made by others that bombing the Nazi rail lines leading to the extermination camps would have been useless, I disagree. The Nazis had much at stake for both their ideology and their morale tied up in their efforts to exterminate Jews. That’s why they diverted great resources to their extermination programme, even stinting on military supplies at times.

    I recommend the book Bloodlands for its descriptions of Nazi and Soviet Socialist atrocities committed against Poles, Ukranians, and the extra-vicious murder of those of Jewish faith and ancestry among the people of those nations. Unfortunately, the author of Bloodlands indulges in occasional wishy-washy parroting of the Soviet disinformation line against Pius XII but alas few historians today are free of the late-20th century Leftist party line.

  21. “The Nazis had much at stake for both their ideology and their morale tied up in their efforts to exterminate Jews. That’s why they diverted great resources to their extermination programme, even stinting on military supplies at times.”

    And that’s why bombing raids would have not caused the Nazis to stop, or even slow, their extermination campaign. It was a number one priority for them, and only catastrophic military defeat caused them to stop.

  22. Since when has what-did-you-do-for-the-jews been a criterion of Canonisation?

    Catholics have been falling all over themselves and spending countless hours trying to prove that a Pope did this and such for the jews.

    The Pope is the Vicar of Christ and the head of every Christian on Earth and his duty is to protect and defend the deposit of Faith and in allowing themsleves to be painted into this corner, Catholics have help to create what-did-you-do-for-the-jews as one criterion for Canonisation.

    It is way past time the Church tried to stop tryinhg to plesse the world – its ancient and permanent enemy – and returned to actualising its duty as Eccclesia Docnes and,once again, begin teaching, definimng, and disciplining.

    O, and where were our, um, elder brethren when score of millions of Christians were being killed by Stalin; where were our elder brethren when tens of millions were slaugjtered in Holodomor?

    Why has Rabbi Skorka,the Pope’s friend, been silent as Christians are being slaughtered today in the M.E. ?

    Where have all the Rabbi’s gone, long time passing, why have all the Rabbi’s gone silent long time ago….

  23. Since when has what-did-you-do-for-the-jews been a criterion of Canonisation?

    The violence being done to the Jews was the most acute human problem the world faced during the first six years of Pius’ pontificate.

  24. “The Pope’s statement only seems to be a tu quoque logical fallacy to those who forget that the Allies had armies, navies, and air forces that Pius XII did not.”

    Tu quoque basically means “what about you?” It is basically a deflection, and as a rhetorical point it can have some power, but even so it is still a logic fallacy. The deflection onto the allies seems to be valid because, yes, they did have armies, navies, and air forces. It is compelling rhetoric. But as logic goes it is still false. Given this your statement makes no sense at all.

    Of course, given the history of German atrocity in Europe, it is a logical fallacy to attack Pius XII on the supposition that more could have been done by the Church. Pius and other leaders were very fearful that every overt effort to save Jews would be defeated, and the history of overt Church efforts (particularly in the Netherlands) proves they were right. All we are stating here is that deflecting attention onto the Allies is a poor way logically to defend Pope Pius. I will say, though, that it is rhetorically effective. Pope Francis knows how to persuade an audience.

  25. Art Deco.

    Pope Pius XI addressed that matter in his first encyclical but it is not a duty of the Pope to do what others wrongly accuse him of failing to do.

    He did not do enough.. is an intentionally vague and subjective charge and there will never be an answer that will satisfy the enemies of Holy Mother Church.

    Canonise him today. Period.

    And if our enemies wail and moan about it, pffft who cares?

    We don’t tell them who and who not to honor; we do not tell them to change the words of their worship…tell them to mind their own business ands stop trying to please them.

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