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YAD VASHEM/ The Jews are starting to change their minds about Pius XII

ANDREA POSSIERI discusses the decision of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem to change the caption under the photo of Pius XII, mitigating his bad reputation.

Pius XII  (1876-1958) Pius XII (1876-1958)

Everyone has been emphasizing the decision of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem to change the caption under the photo of Pius XII, mitigating and historicizing the historical judgment of him, and it undoubtedly represents a significant piece of news. First of all, it contributes, in the meager smallness of a caption in a museum, though an important one, to the relocation of an undisputed protagonist of the events of the twentieth century and an extremely important pontiff for the history of the Church to his proper historical dimension. Then, it also helps to crack the “black legend” that has accompanied the public image of Pius XII since the early sixties, roughly since the performance of the drama by Rolf Hochhuth, “The Vicar”, which staged an indifferent and silent Pope in the face of persecution and extermination of Jews.

Much has been written and said on the “political” and “religious” silence of Pius XII. Today, however, a large volume of studies has allowed the image of guilty silence with which he had been branded to be overturned, revealing, perhaps, the conscious and responsible silence of a Pope who strove to save the lives of thousands of human beings. On this issue, in the coming years, a key contribution will be provided by the Vatican archives, as soon as they are put in order and made available to scholars.

Beyond this, however, there is still another, and perhaps more important, factor that arises from changing the caption of the Holocaust Museum. It is an aspect that refers directly to the way in which modern man places himself in the world: how he lives in it and talks about it; how he goes through it and describes it; the way in which he makes it his own and reshapes it according to his perception. It is an aspect that refers, therefore, to that specific relationship that exists between the narration of events and their public representation, between what happens and what appears to have happened, or in other words, the relationship between the facts and the images of the facts in the minds of men.

It is a decisive relationship, especially in reference to the events of the Church and its public perception, a perception that, not surprisingly, was strongly modified in the course of the twentieth century and with great intensity in the sixties, with the Second Vatican Council. The Council was a unique and resolving event, according to some, that broke the historical continuity of the Constantinian church. The fact is that, well beyond any academic dispute, a new way of looking at Christianity and its history was forged among the educated and intellectuals from around the world, and even among large groups of believers. What emerged was a kind of symbolic-moral watershed through which to reinterpret the “old” and the “new”, “conservation” and “progress” and, perhaps, even the “past” and the “future”.