24 July 2006

Hitler's Pope or Hitler's Mufti

So, eager to resume Emma, I finished off the last few pages of The Myth of Hitler's Pope yesterday so I could give it back to Thomas in the common room after mass. I've had the book three weeks, despite having hurtled through nearly the whole book within a couple of days of borrowing it. For whatever reason I set it aside, leaving its last few pages forlorn and neglected; it seemed important, therefore, that I give them their due yesterday.

Written by Rabbi David G. Dalin, it's an interesting book, albeit a flawed one, taking up arms against the new orthodoxy that sees Pope Pius XII, formerly Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as at best a coward, at worst a crypto-Nazi, and responsible for the deaths of countless Jews. It's a useful antidote to the pseudo-historical and anti-Catholic claptrap perpetuated by the likes of John Cornwell and Daniel Goldhagen.

Dalin's second chapter, 'Popes in Defense of the Jews', puts the case of Pius XII in context by illustrating with a litany of examples how throughout history the Papacy has regularly exhibited strongly philo-Semitic tendencies. Dalin doesn't deny that anti-Semitism has often been a feature of Catholic life; but rather than dealing with it, he shows the other sign of the coin, and by doing so demonstrates the prejudiced and ahistorical manner by which some critics of the Papal-Jewish relations have tended to operate.

The book's third and fourth chapters, 'The Future Pope' and 'A Righteous Gentile: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust', are the real meat of the book. They're very good, being sensible and well-researched - not original research by any means, but a sensible analysis of credible and thorough work done by others work - carefully exposing the flaws, contradictions, and laziness in work's such as Hitler's Pope and A Moral Reckoning. It describes Eugenio Pacelli's youth and his rise to eminence in the Church, culminating in his becoming Pope on the eve of the Second World War, and then his actions throughout the war. Citing numerous speeches made, conversations remembered, letters written, and instructions given by Pius XII Dalin makes a strong case that, far from being damned as a anti-Semitic coward or Nazi sympathiser, Pius XII should be honoured as somebody who directly or indirectly was responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.

There's good stuff there, and the CTS could do a lot worse than attempt to publish a booklet condensing this material into something cheap and easily available, maybe as part of their Concise Histories series.

Unfortunately, Dalin doesn't stop there. Despite the book's title - The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis - only about sixty of the book's hundred and sixty or so pages deal with Pius XII. Those two chapters are the real meat in Dalin's sandwich, surrounded as they are by context, justification, and an extraordinary non sequitur.

The thing is, it doesn't seem enough for Dalin to convincingly show that Pius XII was not, as so many now seem to want to portray him, the most villainous and dangerous cleric of the last century. No, Dalin wants to show us who, in his view, is the rightful claimant to that dubious distinction.

Step forward Haji Amin al-Husseini, Jerusalem's Grand Mufti under the British mandate, who may have played a role - Dalin has no doubts about this - in anti-Jewish riots and massacres in 1922 and 1929, and who throughout the 1930s made overtures towards the Nazis, eventually putting himself completely at their service, encouraging their genocidal policies and aiding them however he could.

Now, Dalin may have a point here, though its relationship to his main thesis is at best tangential. What's more, he generalises recklessly, speaking of the 'maliciously anti-Jewish teachings of Muhammed himself' and a 'predisposition of the Arab people towards Nazism', and carries on beyond that into a laughable sketch of Yasser Arafat as somebody who was trained by Nazis and who deliberately recruited and associated with former Nazis, SS officers, and neo-Nazis.

A quick skimming of the endnotes for this chapter reveals his sources to be rather more partisan and less authoritative than those he cites for his chapters on Pius. Recent newspapers and journals with clear political leanings predominate, and it's astounding how, for example, quotations allegedly from Arafat turn out, on closer inspection, to be from Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the end, Dalin turns out to be as guilty of historical bias and incompetence - at best - as those historians he set out to criticise. His tangential thesis isn't merely off the point, it's as aggressively anti-Muslim as the detractors of Pius XII are, to his mind, anti-Catholic. Poor David Dalin, I'm afraid, winds up hoisting himself on his own petard.

Ah well, back Emma for me. Handsome, clever, and rich, eh? I've been assured she'll get her comeuppance, and I'm looking forward to that. This young lady is rather too self-satisfied...

No comments: