Prof. Daniel Goldhagen comes under fire again, this time from an unexpected quarter
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New York, January 18, 2002


Catholics, Jews Unite To Attack Scholar's Latest

Goldhagen Stirring Ire With Article on Pius XII


PARTICIPANTS in a troubled Jewish-Catholic dialogue found a rare point of agreement this week in their criticism of an article by historian Daniel Goldhagen that attacks the behavior of Pope Pius XII during World War II and raises the question of the church's responsibility for the Holocaust.

In a lengthy article, "What Would Jesus Have Done? Pope Pius XII, the Catholic Church and the Holocaust," published this week in The New Republic magazine, Mr. Goldhagen charges that Pope Pius XII was an anti-Semite and a collaborator with Nazi Germany. Moreover, he claims, there is an "obvious integral relationship" between the church's historical anti-Judaism and the genesis of the Holocaust. He also calls for examining the culpability of the church for the Holocaust.

"Anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust," wrote Mr. Goldhagen, a former Harvard professor and author of a controversial 1996 book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners." "Anti-Semitism has been integral to the Catholic Church. Surely the question of what the relationship is between the church's anti-Semitism and the Holocaust should be at the center of any general treatment of either of these subjects."

Eugene Fisher, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, lashed out at Mr. Goldhagen.

"This is a remarkably uninformed piece," said Mr. Fisher, who has been involved for many years in Jewish-Catholic dialogue. "He lives in fantasy land and he is making this up. It's a sad case and he ought to see a psychiatrist."

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said that Mr. Goldhagen "has an unconcealed antagonism against the Catholic Church, and it shows."

Rabbi Rosen added that while the article was "fine on the past, it was woefully uninformed on the present efforts by the church to mend its ways." Several other scholars and members of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue interviewed for this article made the same point and were especially incensed that steps taken by Pope John Paul II were not acknowledged by Mr. Goldhagen. (See ForwardForum, Page 9.) While some agreed with Mr. Goldhagen's criticism of Pius XII, they criticized his sweeping indictment of the church.

Mr. Goldhagen declined to comment on the reactions. He told the Forward that the article was the foundation for his upcoming book, "A Moral Reckoning, the Catholic Church During the Holocaust and Today," to be published in the fall.

His article comes at a time of renewed tensions between Jews and Catholics over the proposed beatification of Pius XII. For years, Jewish groups have protested the Vatican's intention to beatify a pope who, they claim, maintained a guilty silence during the Holocaust. Last summer, the work of a joint historical commission formed to study the wartime archives of the Vatican stalled over the refusal of Vatican officials to give historians full access to the archives, prompting acrimonious exchanges between Jewish and Catholic officials.

However, Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the official Jewish liaison with the Vatican, praised the Goldhagen article as "very powerful" and believed it would have a "great impact."

"If the Catholic Church wants to defend itself against those charges, there is only one solution -- open the wartime archives," said Mr. Reich, who has spent considerable time negotiating with the Vatican to open its archives and who expressed frustration after those efforts foundered last summer.

Mr. Goldhagen's piece is presented as a review essay of several books in the issue. But his personal thoughts are clearly on display and The New Republic presents his article as "an exhaustive investigation."

Mr. Goldhagen starts the article by denouncing the "exculpatory strategies" used by apologists of Pius XII and compares them to the ones used by those trying to exculpate ordinary Germans of their responsibility for, and participation in, the Holocaust. This is a direct reference to the thesis he defended in "Hitler's Willing Executioners," which prompted vivid criticism from some of his fellow historians for his broad denunciation of the German people.

In addition to a relatively consensual criticism of Pius XII's inaction to help Jews, Mr. Goldhagen also claims that the pope was an anti-Semite who collaborated with Nazi Germany -- like Marshall Philippe Petain in France or Vidkun Quisling in Norway -- most noticeably by signing a concordat agreement with Adolph Hitler in 1933.

But more crucially, Mr. Goldhagen argues that the focus over Pius XII's beatification deflects criticism over the church's past and the attitude of the Vatican and the national churches during the war. This leads him to the most devastating charges of the article, the link between the Church and the Holocaust.

Mr. Goldhagen writes that the "iron curtain" erected by the church between its theological anti-Judaism and Germany's anti-Semitism is a "fiction" that must be lifted.

"This inevitably leads to a consideration of the degree of the church's culpability not just for its reactions to the eliminationist onslaught, but also for the Holocaust itself," he wrote.

He notes that the Catholic Church could find "common cause" with most of the declarations of anti-Semites in the 1930s and claims it makes "little difference" if "their litanies of hatred were not 100 percent congruent, but only a figurative 90 percent."

Mr. Goldhagen goes on to describe as insufficient efforts made by the church since the war, from the "tepid and deeply flawed" Vatican II Council in 1965, which officially recognized that the Jews did not kill Jesus, to the "half-heartedness and historical fabrications" of the 1998 "We Remember" declaration by the church on the Holocaust, which acknowledged the shortcomings of the church during the war.

"This is really the area where he shows lack of knowledge," said Rabbi Rosen of AJCommittee. "There are many other documents and efforts made that he seems not to know about and this is troubling."

Goldhagen index on this website
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