During the war he chose not to issue public protests about Nazi actions against Europe’s Jews. Author Mark Riebling stated in the summer of 1942 the pope had written an article:
The pages contained the Vatican’s strongest protest yet against the persecution of Jewry. The pope planned to publish it in L’Osservatore that very evening. But Leiber urged His Holiness to remember the Dutch bishops’ pastoral letter. If it had cost the lives of 40,000 Jews, an even stronger protest, from even more prominent lips, could cost the lives of many times more. The pope would do better to keep a public silence and do whatever he could in secret. Pius handed the pages to Leiber, who thre them into the kitchen fireplace and watched them burn.
With that decision the pope became one of the millions of Europeans who chose to be silent about the Holocaust.
Among those who remained quiet with him were the leaders of the International Red Cross. Determined to maintain neutrality during the war they were silent on the Holocaust.
Red Cross visits to concentration camps were carefully managed by the Nazis and those conducting the examinations did not stray from the Nazi arrangements. They published reports of sanitized camps.
The Pope joined thousands across Europe who sought to protect and save Jews in private. Riebling states:
Over the same period (German occupation of Rome), 477 Jews had hidden in Vatican City, and 4,238 received sanctuary in Roman monasteries and convents.
We look with admiration on the brave Berliners who kept 2,000 Jews known as “U-boats” alive through the war in the Nazi capital.
The pope did choose to become a part of the underground Resistance to the Nazis by working with the German military Resistance plotting against Hitler.
It remains striking to me that the Pope participated in conspiracies to kill Hitler. Should the leader of the Catholic Church be a part of the assassination of a Head of Government?
It means the Church is taking an active violent role in world politics.
Could Pope Pius XII have saved more Jewish lives had he publicly protested the genocidal actions of the Nazis towards the Jews of Europe?
I have come to doubt such actions would have had an impact. It was an ideological decision to embark on the Holocaust. The traditional methods of Anti-Semites in marginalizing Jewish people and seeking to exile them were inadequate for the Nazis. They were determined to render Europe Jew free.
They did not care if their persecution and execution of Jews damaged Germany’s economy and scientific research.
While eliminating Jews was the highest priority of the Nazis there was a public protest that saved Jewish lives. In 1942 the non-Jewish wives of Jewish men about to be deported to the camps in the East took to the streets of Berlin. The Nazis backed down and did not deport the husbands.
I believe it would have been different had the pope protested. The Nazis wanted to eradicate the Christian faith, especially the Catholic Church. I think public protests from Pius would have accelerated their efforts to destroy the Church.
While Nazis were reluctant to conduct reprisals against German women I do not think they would have hesitated with regard to the Church.
Most important the Pope had been unable to influence the Nazis in their actions in Poland against the Church. Three thousand Polish clergy and three million Christian Poles were killed. When his efforts on behalf of Catholics were ignored I cannot see the Nazis reacting more positively to protests by him with regard to the Jews.
Popes, including Pius XII, had publicly protested against the persecutions conducted by Communist Russia to no avail.
Did the pope have a moral obligation to protest even if his words were futile is a different question? I am sure he thought about the choices he made every day for the rest of his life.