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Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII Hardcover – September 27, 1999

3.1 out of 5 stars 329 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This devastating account of the ecclesiastical career of Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958), who became Pope Pius XII in 1939, is all the more powerful because British historian John Cornwell maintains throughout a measured though strongly critical tone. After World War II, murmurs of Pacelli's callous indifference to the plight of Europe's Jews began to be heard. A noted commentator on Catholic issues, Cornwell began research for this book believing that "if his full story were told, Pius XII's pontificate would be exonerated." Instead, he emerged from the Vatican archives in a state of "moral shock," concluding that Pacelli displayed anti-Semitic tendencies early on and that his drive to promote papal absolutism inexorably led him to collaboration with fascist leaders. Cornwell convincingly depicts Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli pursuing Vatican diplomatic goals that crippled Germany's large Catholic political party, which might otherwise have stymied Hitler's worst excesses. The author's condemnation has special force because he portrays the admittedly eccentric Pacelli not as a monster but as a symptom of a historic wrong turn in the Catholic Church. He meticulously builds his case for the painful conclusion that "Pacelli's failure to respond to the enormity of the Holocaust was more than a personal failure, it was a failure of the papal office itself and the prevailing culture of Catholicism." --Wendy Smith

From Library Journal

Relying on exclusive access to Vatican and Jesuit archives, an award-winning Roman Catholic journalist argues that through a 1933 Concordat with Hitler, Pope Pius XII facilitated the dictator's riseAand, ultimately, the Holocaust.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670886939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670886937
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (329 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
I personally could care less whether Pope Pius XII was a good pope or a bad pope. Anyone who knows Vatican history knows that there have been both kinds of popes in the history of the Church... and it's certainly possible that Pius XII was the callous, immoral fraud that Cornwell depicts him as being. But there are two things that have always troubled me about this denunciation of Pius XII plainly also despise the Catholic Church for other reasons; and, more significantly, (2) the people who actually LIVED through World War II (including the former Chief Rabbi of Rome) had only PRAISE for Pius XII's courage when dealing with the Nazis (who were, by the way, stationed with tanks about 100 yards from where the pope slept!). Cornwell fails utterly to explain why, if Pius XII was so bad...
1. Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel, said upon Pius XII's death that " During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people passed through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims."
2. Elio Toaff, the Chief Rabbi of Rome during the Nazi terror, said, "More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror."
3. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, said that, "with special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history."
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By A Customer on October 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I don't like this book because I think that it is bad research, and even worse targetting at misleading the masses. BTW I am not Catholic, so I have no interest or particular reason to defend Pius XII. The argumentation of the book is poor and the evidence very selective. Cornwell ignored the mass of evidence that sustained the contrary thesis, and the reasons that led Pius to use a soft policy for helping the Jews (Hitler reacting with more persecution when the pope would condemn antisemitism strongly, and Hitler's becoming full of hate just by hearing the word "Jew".) For those who are interested in a much better book on the same topic, I definitely recommend Pierre Blet's book on Pius XII. (Pius XII and the Second World War : According to the Archives of the Vatican)
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Format: Hardcover
I was fascinated by this book and went on to do some more digging. I found so much material contrary to Cornwell's account that I keep asking myself why an historian would go to such efforts to smear a man who, it seems, saved so many lives. I can only assume that marketing considerations determined the tone of this book.
A few quotes: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for it's victims." Golda Meir
"He (Pope Pius)is the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares raise his voice at all." New York Times editorial Dec. 25, 1942
"Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign." Albert Einstein (Time magazine 1944)
It is a "regretable irony that the one person in all of occupied Europe who did more than anyone else to halt the dreadful crime...is today made the scapegoat for the failures of others." Jeno Levai (Jewish historian specializing in the Holocaust in Hungary)
"The Catholic Church under Pius XII was instumental in saving the lives of as many as 860,000 Jews" Pinchas Lapide (Israeli diplomat)
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Format: Hardcover
You have to read 370 pages into this book to get to the crux of the matter, Cornwell's real aim:
"Those who long for the realization of collegiality in the Catholic church may also come to accept, in the light of this narrative ... that papal autocracy, carried to the extreme, can only demoralize and weaken Christian communities. ... It has been the urgent thesis of this book, however, that when the papacy waxes strong at the expense of the people of God, the Catholic Church declines in moral and spiritual influence to the detriment of us all."
I have no illusions about the power of the Papacy to inflict harm needlessly and unconsciously on the Christian church. I have no doubt that past popes have been responsible for death and destruction to further their own political power. However, I do not think Cornwell presents a credible case to damn Pius XII. He merely presents an indictment of the papacy as a strong, reactionary, unresponsive office badly in need of reform from his own perspective.
To do this, he invokes the name of Hitler in the title, conjuring up all the evil of history associated with that name, hoping some will rub off on the pope. He then calls him by his Christian name, stripping him of title and making him into a faceless bureaucrat. Finally, he associates him with every evil of the era, from fascism to McCarthyism, hoping for some revolt against John Paul II at the end, in a chapter which seemed hastily added on and beside the point until you arrive at page 370, the next to last page.
This is history as polemic, and not necessarily well done either. The section dealing with Pius' death is, frankly, dispicable. Because of the nature of the work as revealed at the end, this book calls all of its conclusions into suspicion.
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