The Holocaust Historiography Project

American-Born Vatican Historian Refuted 'Holocaust Complicity' Charges

One of the most persistent and malicious accusations leveled against the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades is the charge that Pope Pius XII and the Vatican acquiesced in the slaughter of millions of Jews during the Second World War by failing explicitly to condemn the killings. (On this subject, see: Mary Ball Martinez, “Pope Pius XII During the Second World War,” Sept.-Oct. 1993 Journal.)

Greatly contributing to this campaign was a play, “The Deputy,” which provoked intense worldwide discussion following its premiere in 1963. This polemical work by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth is based in large part on the “confessions” of former SS officer Kurt Gerstein. (For more on Gerstein, see Henri Roques' book-length study, The 'Confessions' of Kurt Gerstein, published by the IHR.)

It is indeed true that Pope Pius XII made no explicit public condemnation during the war of killings of Jews — a fact that is often cited by the Church’s critics to accuse the Vatican of grave moral culpability for passive complicity in “the Holocaust.”

But as Dr. Arthur Butz has explained, a more reasonable explanation for this “silence” is the fact that Vatican officials were unable to confirm the rumors of a German policy or program to exterminate Europe’s Jews, in spite of voluminous information received during the war years through an outstanding intelligence network. Thus, in late 1942 Pope Pius XII privately told an American official that, with regard to the extermination reports, he “felt that there had been some exaggeration for the purposes of propaganda.” (Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies [1981], pp. 104-105)

As Dr. Butz has further pointed out, neither the Allied governments, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or even the major international Jewish organizations, acted as if they seriously believed wartime stories of mass extermination of Jews. (See Butz' paper, “Context and Perspective in the 'Holocaust' Controversy,” published as Supplement B in the current edition of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century.)

In recent years, the most important Vatican voice refuting the “complicity” charge was that of the American-born historian Robert A. Graham, the Catholic Church’s foremost authority on the Papacy’s role during the Second World War. He once characterized the “complicity” accusations as “an obscenity.”

Graham, a native of San Francisco, was born in 1912, the son of a baseball coach. After his ordination as a Jesuit priest in 1941, he studied at various Jesuit colleges, earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Geneva in 1952, and joined the staff of the Jesuit magazine America in New York. While serving as the magazine’s associate editor, he began his decades-long investigation of social, historical and diplomatic issues.

Responding to the international furor of the early 1960s regarding the Vatican’s wartime role, Pope Paul VI ordered secret Vatican records of the wartime era to be opened, and assigned Fr. Graham and three other scholars the great task of sifting, organizing and publishing this mass of material.

Over the course of the next 17 years, Graham and his associates issued a series of eleven comprehensive volumes of documents, supplemented with informed comment, under the title Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale. These detailed records show conclusively that Pope Pius XII actively aided large numbers of persecuted Jews during the war years, and that the Vatican was an important haven of refuge and assistance for the continent’s Jews.

After the completion of this project in 1981, Fr. Graham continued his archival research and scholarly writing until the final months of his life.

For 24 years he was also a regular contributor to Columbia, the magazine of the US Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus.

During his lifetime Graham wrote several books based on his extensive research in Vatican and other archives, including Vatican Diplomacy (1959), Pope Pius XII and the Jews, and The Vatican and Communism During World War II (1996). Over the years he also published many of his findings in numerous articles that appeared in the Rome-based scholarly journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

Fr. Graham’s scrupulousness and open-mindedness is also reflected in his relations with revisionist researchers, as shown in the two letters reproduced here in facsimile (reduced).

Bibliographic information
Author: Weber, Mark
Title: American-Born Vatican Historian [Robert Graham] Refuted 'Holocaust Complicity' Charges
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: March/April 1998
Issue: Volume 17 number 2
Location: Page 26
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.