New York, January 18, 2002
Catholics, Jews Unite
To Attack Scholar's Latest
Goldhagen Stirring Ire With Article on
By MARC PERELMAN FORWARD STAFF
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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."