J.J. Goldberg

The New Passion of Bernard-Henri Lévy: Defending Pope Benedict XVI

By J.J. Goldberg

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The popular and ever-elegantly coiffed French moral philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has weighed in at Huffington Post with a passionate defense of Pope Benedict XVI from the many accusations (including a few of my own) that he’s no friend of the Jews. It seems to me he makes a few points worth considering.

As soon as he was elected, the accusations of “ultraconservatism,” taken up in a loop by the media, began — as though a pope could, in fact, be anything but “conservative

Texts have been quite simply distorted, regarding his trip to Auschwitz in 2006, for example, where it was asserted — and repeated, also in a loop, time blurring the memory of the event — that he paid homage to the 6 million Polish dead, victims of a mere “band of criminals”, without mentioning that half of them were Jews. (The falsehood is downright staggering, considering that, on that day, Benedict XVI plainly spoke of the attempt of the “powerful of the 3rd Reich” to “eliminate the Jewish people” from the “ranks of the nations of the earth” [cf Le Monde, 30 May 2006]).

What’s particularly unexpected is Lévy’s double-barreled defense of Pope Pius XII, along with some little-known facts about the playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, whose 1964 play “The Deputy” first brought Pius’s wartime behavior of public attention. Here’s a piece of it:

And, as for the affair of Pius XII…

If need be, I shall go back over the very complex affair of Pius XII.

I shall go back over the case of Rolf Hochhuth, author of the famous work, The Deputy, the genesis of the polemic regarding the “silences of Pius XII”, in 1963.

And I shall go back over the particular fact that this burning dispenser of justice is, as a matter of fact, a negationist, often condemned as such (notably by Paul Spiegel, the now-deceased former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany), whose last provocative act consisted of defending David Irving, who denies the existence of gas chambers, in an interview with the extreme right wing weekly Die Junge Freiheit five years ago.

For the time being, I would just like to recall (as has Laurent Dispot in La Règle. du Jeu, the review I edit), that in 1937, when the terrible Pius XII was still just Cardinal Pacelli, he co-authored the encyclical With Burning Anxiety, which today still remains one of the firmest and most eloquent of anti-Nazi manifestos.

For the time being, we owe it to historical accuracy to point out that, before engaging in clandestine action, opening—without saying so—his convents to Roman Jews hunted by the fascist bullies, the silent Pius XII made a number of speeches broadcast by radio, in particular at Christmas of 1941 and 1942.

After his death, they earned him the praise of Golda Meir, who knew the value of the spoken word and was not afraid to declare that “during ten years of Nazi terror, while our people suffered in dreadful agony, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the executioners”.

Not least, here is how Lévy responds to Benedict’s much-criticized visit to the central synagogue in Rome a week ago:

When he bowed his head in silence before the wreath of red roses placed before the plaque commemorating the martyrdom of 1021 deported Roman Jews, Benedict XVI was only doing his. duty, but he did it.

When Benedict XVI paid homage to the “faces” of these “men, women and children” rounded up as part of the project of “extermination of the people of the Covenant of Moses,” he was stating the obvious, but he said it.

When Benedict XVI reiterates, word for word, the terms of John Paul II’s prayer at the Wailing Wall a decade ago, when Benedict XVI then asks “forgiveness” of the Jewish people, long the subject of pogroms inspired by the furor of an antisemitism essentially Catholic in nature and this, again, by reading John Paul II’s own words, it is time to stop repeating, like braying donkeys, that he is not going as far as his predecessor.

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Richard Z. Chesnoff Mon. Jan 25, 2010

BHL may well be correct: some Jews have reacted to Pope Benedict with what might be comfortably described as "hyper sensitivity". But I am shocked that any French Jew would dash to the defense of Pius XII - the same pope who refused to condemn the harsh 1940 anti-Semitic laws of the collaborationist French government -- as long as they were carried out with "charity" and "justice". There is no doubt that on specific occasions, the Vatican of Pius XII helped individual Jews in distress (e.g. arranging for visas to Brazil for some European Jews who'd converted to Catholicism and allowing Catholic convents and monasteries to hide others if they chose to do so). But Pius never once publicly or specifically condemned the Nazi slaughter of Jews, never publicly uttered the word "Jew". When asked to take a stand by Allied diplomats and some of his own bishops, he insisted that the Vatican must maintain "neutrality" and claimed that details of the ongoing Holocaust could not be confirmed - despite the fact hat he had a steady stream of reports of deportations, persecutions and deaths of Jews from many of his Bishops across Europe. In the end, and at best, Pius was terribly guilty of the same crime as other figures of World War II - doing far too little to help Jews and saying far too little to demand a stop to the murders. A Pope should certainly have done more. If the Vatican has information to the contrary, it's time to release it.

Sephardiman Tue. Jan 26, 2010

Chazak U'Barukh to BHL! I realize that B16 bashing is the party line in contemporary Jewish circles, but it's highly irresponsible. The apparatchniks of our organized Jewish community resent the current pontiff for the simple reason that he's authentically Catholic. Give the guy a break.

Lee Tue. Jan 26, 2010

"In the end, and at best, Pius was terribly guilty of the same crime as other figures of World War II - doing far too little to help Jews and saying far too little to demand a stop to the murders."

First of all, it's still not clear how much Pius did to help Jews behind the scenes. Secondly, how exactly would anything he could have said have done anything to stop the Holocaust? While one can argue that a more explicit condemnation of the genocide might have moved some individual Catholics to protect Jews who did not do so, to suggest that Pius XII could have stopped or seriously curtailed the Holocaust is preposterous.

Joe Fri. Jan 29, 2010

What interests me, aside from the obvious fact that Pacelli did speak out from time to time, is that FDR and Churchill did probably even less ! They had armies, navies and air forces, unlike the Pope, yet they failed to speak out on behalf of millions of Jews being murdered. They are still heroes, while the Pope is made to take the blame. Many Catholic institutions rescued Jews from the Nazis and I don't doubt that the Pope encouraged them to do so.

Lee Sat. Jan 30, 2010


Didn't Churchill denounce the Holocaust in 1942, calling it possibly the "greatest crime" in history?

Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg Sat. Jan 30, 2010

Open the archives and let us discover the truth.

Miriam Chartier Sun. Jan 31, 2010

We are all thinkers... and need to see and look....so that we know we are not deceived or lied to.... That should be what the pope wants also, unless.... People, what ever religion, have free-wills, and many.....use ....it....and ....think....and ...act...by them selves and do great things...many Catholic and other religious people all helped... The Nazis were pure evil, and killed all religions, anyone that stood up against them. Fear, was their biggest weapon, but nevertheless, fear of G-D was greater in those that put their lives out to save a jew. In truth we must all look at the roots, and the men that lead us and say, "it is in the name of god", and make sure it is G-D we are following and not man.

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