New evidence unmasks a myth that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope:’ and a shocking failure of The New York Times to tell the world of the Holocaust.
These Stone Walls might seem a strange place to be reading this story, but in a way it might make sense. Too many Catholic writers today seem to fear The New York Times and the rest of the mainstream news media. It’s a subtle fear that I laid out in “The Catholic Press Needs to Get Over Its Father Maciel Syndrome.” There are courageous exceptions, of course, and notable among them are Bill Donohue of The Catholic League and David F. Pierre of The Media Report. Both have repeatedly and forcefully called The New York Times to task for its distortions of news pertaining to the Catholic Church. Nowhere have these distortions been more evident than in the Catholic sex abuse scandal, a drama I have lived every day for the last 18 years. It’s also a drama that leads the late 20th Century litany of anti-Catholic agendas in the news. I gave several examples in a post entitled “Catholic Scandal and the News Media.”
Running a close second in that litany is the story of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. You have all read or heard the claims that Pope Pius XII was silent, at best, during the Holocaust, and at worst secured an accommodation with the Third Reich that saved the Catholic Church at the expense of the Jews. It’s not at all true, but the truth has had an uphill climb against the pervasive story, told again and again, that Pope Pius XII failed to confront Hitler during his systematic genocide of over six million European Jews and millions of others. You’ve heard the story of this supposed silence in a slanderous media sound bite that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope.” Next to the “pedophile priest” propaganda, it is probably the most often used and abused modern anti-Catholic slur. But simply put, it is a lie.
Newly emerging evidence reveals that the entire story was the result of an organized propaganda effort sponsored by the Soviet KGB to discredit Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church. It’s a shocking story, the stuff of Tom Clancy novels and wild conspiracy theories, but it’s also true, and I’ll unravel that truth in a few moments. It is truly bizarre, but not nearly as bizarre as another anti-Catholic Nazi plot I described in “Catholic Scandal and the Third Reich: The Rise and Fall of a Moral Panic.” It’s a very good background to this post.
WHEN THE GREY LADY TURNED YELLOW
Though falling at the end of my title, my story begins in the pages of The New York Times, and a context for the “Hitler’s Pope” story. I have long wondered what the Times and the rest of the American mainstream news media did to confront Hitler and the Holocaust. The American press was at its peak of global influence during World War II. Many U.S. newspapers, and most notably The New York Times, had foreign correspondents and news bureaus at their command. The Pope did not command a global news outlet with anything close to the power and impact of The New York Times.
So what exactly was the Times’ role in uncovering and reporting on the Third Reich’s extermination of twelve million people including over six million Jews? I found the answer in a 1999 book by Susan E. Tifft & Alex S. Jones entitled, “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times (Little, Brown). Susan E. Tifft is a former associate editor of Time Magazine. Her co-author (and husband), Alex S. Jones, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning media reporter for The New York Times from 1983 to 1992. At the time they published The Trust, they shared a chair in communications and journalism at Duke University.
The story of The New York Times‘ reporting on news of the Holocaust begins with ad revenue. According to Tifft and Jones, the Times slashed its space devoted to news far more severely than its space devoted to advertising during World War II:
“In 1939, 60 percent of the paper had been taken up by news; in 1944 the figure had fallen to below 50 percent. That, coupled with an advertising rate hike . . . sent the Times ad revenue soaring to its highest level since 1931” (p. 207).
During that period, the Times’ ad revenue had increased from $13 million to $15 million while what it spent on gathering and reporting news decreased from $3.9 million to $3.7 million. Still, at the height of World War II, The New York Times had 55 overseas correspondents, more than any other American newspaper. Owner, Arthur Sulzberger determined that these foreign ambassadors of the Times “should be ‘well-educated attractive Protestants,’ not Jews” (p. 209). This had implications for how and where in the Times the dismal news of Nazi activities throughout Europe was presented, especially in regard to Hitler’s persecutions of the Jews:
“Like his late father-in-law, [Arthur Sulzberger] did not want the Times to be viewed as a ‘Jewish paper.’ But in his single-minded effort to achieve that end, he missed an opportunity to use the considerable power of the paper to focus a spotlight on one of the greatest crimes the world has ever known.” (p. 215)
“These personal and professional strains converged with increasing power during the Holocaust . . . [C]rucial news stories were frequently buried inside the paper rather than highlighted on page one. A July 2, 1944 dispatch citing ‘authoritative information’ that 400,000 Hungarian Jews had already been deported to their deaths and an additional 350,000 were to be killed in the next three weeks received only four column inches on page twelve, while that same day a story about Fourth of July holiday crowds ran on the front page.” (p. 217).
The criticisms of Pope Pius XII and his supposed inaction have been widely exposed in the American news media among newspapers that had scores of correspondents reporting from Europe during World War II. And yet, most of their editors at home simply did not believe the accounts of atrocities coming out of Europe. News of Hitler’s Final Solution was downplayed in the American news media, and the reason for it was utterly scandalous. Susan Tifft and Alex Jones explained why:
“The Times was hardly alone in downplaying news of the Final Solution. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, other major dailies, including the New York Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, like the public at large, disbelieved reports of Jewish genocide in Europe or suspected they were exaggerated in order to attract relief funds.” (p. 218)
During World War II, The New York Times was considered a media flagship. It enjoyed unprecedented power on the global news stage as the preeminent American newspaper. The Times’ superior foreign reporting capabilities gave it the power to set the agenda for other newspapers, many of which took their cue from the Times’ front page. In a post entitled “Saints and Sacrifices: Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein at Auschwitz,” I described what happened in Europe when the bishops of Holland, under the authority of Pope Pius XII, publicly challenged the Third Reich’s deportation of Jews to the death camps. This information was right at the fingertips of The New York Times and its teams reporting from Europe. The Times was in a unique position to inform the world of the horrors of the Holocaust, but it held back. Susan Tifft and Alex Jones concluded:
“Had the Times highlighted Nazi atrocities against Jews, or simply not buried certain stories, the nation might have awakened to the horror far sooner than it did.” (p. 218)
In the Spring of 1945, just before Germany’s surrender, General Dwight Eisenhower assembled an l8-member press delegation to inspect Dachau and Buchenwald. It included the owners of The New York Times with this result reported by Tifft and Jones:
“Despite the powerful effect of such experiences by the owners of The New York Times. readers detected no change in the coverage of Nazi barbarism. The front-page story on the liberation of Dachau never mentioned the word. ‘Jew.’ A week later, Cy Sulzberger’s story about Russian estimates of the death toll at Auschwitz appeared on page twelve, with no indication that most of the victims were Jews.” (p. 237)
THE POPE AND THE KGB
In “The Beatification of Pope John Paul II: When the Wall Fell,” I wrote of a fictional story about the late great Pope from a terrific novel by Tom Clancy entitled Red Rabbit (G.P. Putnam, 2002). In typical Tom Clancy fashion, he told a riveting but wild tale of how the Soviet Union saw Pope John Paul II as an ominous threat to its leadership and legitimacy in the early 1980s. In Clancy’s tale, the Soviet Politburo gave a secret nod to a KGB plot to eliminate the Pope.
In the convoluted story – which defied rational belief – the KGB feared that the administration of President Ronald Reagan would not look kindly on their assassination of a Pope, so some plausible denial was needed. The KGB engaged the Bulgarian secret police to hire a Turkish mercenary to assassinate the Pope right before the world’s eyes in Saint Peter’s Square. The techno-thriller that emerged from this frame of a plot was Tom Clancy at his very best. Reviewers liked the book, but some dismissed its plot as revisionist history and Catholic paranoia.
It turned out that the story wasn’t fiction at all. In 2010, files released by the East German secret service confirmed that the KGB ordered the attack on the Pope and carried out the plot just as Tom Clancy described it. Though much of the mainstream media downplayed the story, the KGB recruited the Bulgarian secret police who in turn hired a Turkish mercenary, Mehmet Ali Agca, to shoot Pope John Paul, hitting him four times at point blank range. This Pope, however, was made of some tough material, and he survived, thwarting the KGB plan.
It turns out that this wasn’t the first time the KGB targeted a Pope for assassination, though in the first instance it was character assassination. All is not what it seems to be in the scandalous charge that Pope Pius XII was silent about the wartime atrocities of Adolf Hitler, The Third Reich, and the Holocaust. Edward Pentin, Rome Correspondent for the National Catholic Register had a fascinating two-part series in September revealing new evidence about how the myth of “Hitler’s Pope” actually began with Joseph Stalin. Part 1 and Part 2
In Part 1 of the series, “Ex-KGB Chief: Pius XII Was Framed” (NC Register, Aug. 26 – Sept. 8, 2012), Edward Pentin reported that Rolf Hochhuth’s famous 1963 play, “The Deputy” was used by Soviet intelligence as part of a wider plot to frame the Pope. In 1968, the play was described as the “slander of the century” by famed British reporter, David Frost.
Part 1 of Pentin’s story begins with Ion Mihai Pacepa, former head of the Romanian intelligence service who described in detail how the Soviets framed Pope Pius XII as an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathizer in a propaganda campaign known as “Operation Seat 12.” The story is revealed in an upcoming book with famed Holocaust author, Ronald Rychlak entitled Disinformation. In his introduction to the book, former CIA director, James Woolsey wrote that the book, “will change forever the way you look at intelligence, foreign affairs, the press and much else.”
If Edward Pentin’s articles are accurate, it will also change forever the way you look at the mythical and scandalous accounts of Pope Pius XII during World War II. According to Part 2 of Edward Pentin’s series, entitled “Pope Pius and the Myth of ‘Hitler’s Pope”’:
“The Kremlin’s attempt to frame Pius XII as Hitler’s Pope was rejected by that contemporary generation that bad lived through the real history and knew who Pope Pius XII really was. The Kremlin tried again in the 1960s, with the next generation.”
The irony of the KGB propaganda war waged to assassinate the character of Pope Pius XII is this: If all contemporary agendas were put aside, and the verdict of Jews in the generation during and after the War ruled the day, then the true picture of Pope Pius XII emerges from the rubble of war. It is the picture of a courageous hero whose stand against Hitler directly saved the lives of 860,000 Jews, more than any other figure – religious or otherwise – in World War II Europe. Not least among many tributes to Pope Pius and his wartime advocacy for the Jews of Europe was this one by Rabbi Israel Zolli, Rome’s Chief Rabbi during World War II:
“There is no place of sorrow where the spirit of love of Pius XII has not reached . . . There are no barriers, no distinctions. All sufferers are children of God in the eyes of the Church . . . No hero in history has commanded such an army; none is more heroic than that conducted by Pius XII in the name of Christian charity.”
NOW THE GREY LADY FADES
It is no longer a mystery to me why The New York Times and other news media spread far and wide the myth of “Hitler’s Pope.” They eagerly embraced without question a Kremlin propaganda campaign to frame Pius XII as a scapegoat for silence in the face of the Holocaust. The Times had an opportunity during Hitler’s reign that the Pope never had – an opportunity to expose a horrible truth to the world. According to Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones, other agendas – self-serving political agendas – controlled the news and buried that truth. If the Kremlin had its “Operation Seat 12” to defame the Pope, “Operation Page 12” seemed to be a parallel plan at The New York Times. It’s a moral legacy that cannot ever be erased as long as the Times and other news media scapegoat someone else for that silence.
Media slurs against priests and popes have helped to derail a Catholic moral voice in this increasingly secularized public square, but it’s time to stand against the lies. If you like this post, then send it to others. E-mail it, post it to your social networks, ping it, tweet it, and help further this truth – because it IS the truth.
And if you are feeling simply defeated from the electoral voice of America, that’s a luxury we may not have. Western Culture stands at a precipice, and will continue its descent until its imminent fall becomes clearer to all – perhaps in four more years or so. There remains future hope, so declaring defeat is not an option. Truth must always be cultivated in the face of lies, and no election results can stifle it. The truth belongs front and center, and has no “Operation Page 12.”