The First Cold Warrior?

Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Cold War
Michael Phayer
Indiana University Press, $29.95, 333 pp.

After all the scrutiny directed at Pius XII in the past decade, two things might justify another book about his actions during and after the Holocaust: new historical sources or a new historical vision. Michael Phayer, author of the indispensable The Catholic Church and the Holocaust (2001), claims to have both: newly declassified documents from American intelligence officials and diplomats operating in Europe in the 1940s, and a comprehensive view that accounts for Pius XII’s controversial behavior—anti-Communism. Phayer portrays Pius as the “first cold warrior” with an “obsession with Communism” that overpowered every other consideration when it came to Hitler’s Germany. This book invites two questions from the reader. First, did U.S. intelligence officers operating outside the Vatican gain insights that might advance our understanding of what was happening inside the Vatican? Second, does anti-Communism, undoubtedly central to Pius’s mindset, provide a key that will finally unlock the mystery of why he acted as he did in the 1940s?

As far as the war years are concerned, Phayer actually adds to the mystery. We know that Pius never openly condemned Nazi genocide of the Jews. But what did he say when fellow Catholics became victims of mass murder? The answer is: not much. From the fall of...

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About the Author

John Connelly, author of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews (Harvard), teaches history at the University of California, Berkeley.