Pope Pius XII has been much maligned over the years for his so-called ďsilenceĒ during World War II concerning the Jews and the Holocaust, for along with the Catholic Church doing nothing to help them. Sr. Margherita Marchione and others have shown this to be false propaganda from enemies of the Catholic Church. In Crusade of Charity, Marchioneís primary sources show that Pope Pius XII and the Church did everything within their power trying to prevent more killing and imprisonment of Jews or others. The Pope instructed religious and clergy to hide or provide support to Jews and others, and they were hidden in monasteries, convents, seminaries, and other Church-related institutions. This was more easily done around Rome since many of these were part of the Vatican City State, which had extraterritorial status according to the Lateran Treaty of 1939 that created the Vatican City State. Still, outside of this area, Catholics - be they clergy, religious or laity - hid many Jews and others from the Nazis and their allies.
Some have said that the Pope and the Catholic Church should have done more, yet the situation in the Netherlands is a primary example of what happened when the Church did speak out vehemently. The Dutch bishops denounced the Nazis in clear terms from every pulpit in the Netherlands. The Nazis who were occupying the country rounded up all Jews in response, even those who had converted to Catholicism like Edith Stein, who was a Carmelite nun known as Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and sent them to concentration camps where many died. Before the bishops spoke out, Jews who had converted to Catholicism were safe. After they spoke out no one was safe; even more were imprisoned and killed.
Pope Pius and other Catholic leaders took note and were more cautious about their criticism of the Nazis. They did not want to escalate the number of victims; they wanted to save as many as possible. Many Jews and others were saved by Catholics; the Church even provided false baptismal records for many Jews.
Does this reviewer digress? The subtitle talks about POWs and not about the Holocaust. But the subtitle is only half-right and a bit misleading. Marchione does talk about Prisoners of War (POWs) and the Holocaust; her book is about what the Church did to save Jews, but it is also about what the Church did for POWs. A huge part of Crusade of Charity is a collection of examples from the millions of letters sent to the Pope and the Church concerning POWs on both sides of the war. These letters came from families and friends of POWs who had lost track of their loved ones and hoped that the Vatican could find out information about them. Marchione was granted access to these materials in the Vatican Archives, and she discovered that millions of letters and records were connected with these communiques.
The Vatican set the Vatican Information Office, involving many religious, clergy and laity, to help with this. Vatican Radio, the Vaticanís newspaper, and other officials in Rome and throughout the world assisted in this huge undertaking. There are over 20 million letters and thousands of records showing that the Vatican and the Pope used their worldwide resources and connections to find out what had happened to soldiers and others. They did not always succeed, but they did try, passing on the information they gathered to the families and friends and acted as go-betweens when allowed to pass on notes or letters.
The first portion of this book is a discussion on the controversy about the so-called silence of the Church, what the Church actually did to help Jews and others, quotes from Jews and others who know the truth and were there, and what the Church did for POWs. The larger, second portion of the book contains translations of letters to the Pope asking for help in obtaining information about POWs, which are followed by notes from the records about the person or situation. Marchione organized these letters into various subject topics like civilians, combatants, British prisoners, forgotten in Russia, marine and aeronautics, and others. She concludes the book with endnotes, a bibliography and an index. This book should be considered as an addition to the authorís books on Pope Pius XII. This collection may also help Pope Pius XIIís cause for beatification and eventual canonization, and it refutes the accusations against Pope Pius and the Church for being silent and doing nothing for the Jews.
Sr. Margherita Marchione is the author of Man of Peace: Pope Pius XII (2004), Shepherd of Souls: A Pictorial Life of Pope Pius XII (2003), Consensus and Controversy: Defending Pope Pius XII (2002), Yours is a Precious Witness: Memoirs of Jews and Catholics in Wartime Italy (2001), The Fighting Nun (2000), Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace (2000), and many other books and articles in Italian and English. Crusade of Charity is highly recommended to those who want to know more about the truth about what Pope Pius XII actually did during World War II.