Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hitler, the War, and the Pope

After finishing The Four Teresas, I decided to request Hitler, the War, and the Pope, by Ronald J. Rychlak. Little did I know I would be getting a 600 + page hardcover!

As a History and Theology Major I have always enjoyed reading about world conflicts and the Church's response to them. While my particular area of study was on Spanish Missions in Florida, I have also read a bit about WWII.

The version I received is the Revised and Expanded Version in which Mr. Rychlak adds to his previous studies.

This book is filled with facts, quotes, references, etc., but all in a very readable form. I did not find this book "dry" in the least. I was drawn in by the very systematic approach that Mr. Rychlak takes in presenting the background of Pope Pius XII (then Eugenio Pacelli) as Papal Nuncio to Munich and Secretary of State prior to the start of WWII. His familiarity with Hitler and his outspokenness about Hitler's doings in Germany were well noted by those in the Vatican and secular society.

Mr. Rychlak chronicles Pacelli's rise in the hierarchy and eventual election to Pope. He spends a great deal of time covering Pope Pius XII's statements during WWII, his connections and dealings with both Allies and Axis powers, and includes documentation of groups that thanked the Pope for his efforts to combat anti-semitism. Most notably in the final war years and post-war time period.

How then could generations of people not know of the Pope's humanitarian efforts and accuse him of apathy and even collaborating with Hitler?

Mr. Rychlak looks at recent charges that the Soviets were involved in a plan to discredit him and "change" people's view of history or forget it in some way. While that particular chapter was fascinating in context, it was difficult to follow all the threads. Following a chapter in which Mr. Rychlak looks at certain critics' points, Mr. Rychlak devotes a chapter just to Questions and Answers. An excellent way to wrap up his tremendous research.

There were so many quotes and facts that stuck out to me, but this paragraph lingers in my thoughts:

"The persecution put an enormous strain on Pius. Associates worried about his ability to survive the eighteen-hour days he put in. Although Pius could have lived in the style of a king, he put war-time restrictions upon himself and the other citizens of Vatican City. He dispensed with his private secretaries, and he survived on the same rations that were available to everyone in Rome (little food, no coffee, and no heat). By the end of the war, he was emaciated. Although he was more than six feet tall, he weighed only 130 pounds. Bishop (late Archbishop) Fulton Sheen called Pius a 'dry martyr,' meaning that he had suffered for the Church in times of persecution, but without having shed blood. He had witnessed terrible suffering up close, and have been unable to stop it:

Perhaps no Pope in history has seen so many martyred for their faith as Pius XII. The first 32 Popes, including St. Peter, were martyrs for the faith. They were the wet martyrs. The present Holy Father has seen millions tortured, persecuted, exiled, and martyred under the beatings of the hammer and sickle of communism; he has agonized under the double cross of Nazism and borne in his body the marks of the sticks of fascism...[A]ll this and other sorrows, he felt as his own."

I was most pleased with my choice of book. The length did seem daunting at first, but a truly excellent piece of research laid out in a very systematic and engaging read.

This review was written as part of the Catholic Book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Hitler, the War, and the Pope. I received nothing but a free copy of the book in exchange for my opinion of it.

While you're checking out the Catholic Company. Take a look at their Mary Statues! This one is on my Christmas List:)

1 comment:

Warren&Cherise said...

I think you would really enjoy a book by Schumann called Being Present: Growing up in Hitler's Germany.