The Myth of Hitler’s Pope

Hitler’s Pope Story a Myth, Rabbi Finds

“The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews From the Nazis” by Rabbi David G. Dalin (Regnery, $27.95).

In “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope,” Rabbi David G. Dalin has written an important, frank and lucid defense of an unfairly maligned figure of recent history. Dalin’s book clears up often-heard libels about the World War II papacy of Pius XII. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the role those libels play in the wider cultural context.

Dalin, a historian and political scientist, has here expanded on a series of essays written originally in 2001 in The Weekly Standard. At the time, a boatload of books defamed Pius as a Nazi sympathizer.

Notable among these anti-Pius tomes was John Cornwell’s “Hitler’s Pope” (1999), which featured on its cover a memorable photo of Pius exiting a building, seemingly saluted by Nazis soldiers. The photo was misidentified in the British printing of the book as depicting a scene in March 1939: “Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, leaving the presidential palace in Berlin.” The implication, as historian Philip Jenkins wrote, was that “Pacelli is emerging from a cozy tete-a-tete with Hitler — perhaps they have been chatting about plans for a new extermination camp.”

Which is utterly false and sadly typical. In fact, the photo was taken in 1927, when Pacelli was the papal nuncio in Berlin. He had just attended a reception for Germany’s democratically elected president, Paul von Hindenburg. Throughout his life, Pacelli refused to meet with Hitler. The soldiers in the picture, wearing the distinctive German helmets, are of constitutional Weimar, not totalitarian Nazi Germany.

But such has been the eagerness of the anti-Pius writers to bludgeon their alleged villain, that such distinctions tend to get lost. I’m not sure it’s true, as Dalin argues, that Pius saved more Jews than any other Righteous Gentile in World War II.


David Klinghoffer’s most recent book is “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History” (Doubleday).


by David Klinghoffer