Pius XII: Not Vindicated

The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965
Michael Phayer
Indiana University Press, $29.95, 324 pp.

Under His Very Windows
The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy
Susan Zuccotti
Yale University Press, $29.95, 396 pp.

It is a peculiar statue. The work of a well-known Italian sculptor, Francesco Messina, it is set about halfway into Saint Peter’s to the right of the main nave, next to a painting of Saint Sebastian and immediately opposite a statue of Pius XI. Pius XII is standing, in full regalia; his papal cloak envelops him, draped over his shoulders like a protecting towel as if he had just emerged from a swim. With one hand he blesses the faithful, but his face is turned away to the right, as if someone or something is distracting him. The face itself commands attention. Its lower half is finely formed, ascetic—the mouth small, symmetrical, full-lipped; the nose straight, Roman, slightly humped in the center of the bridge. Above it the eyes are hidden behind thick spectacles, like the goggles worn by racing drivers of fifty years ago, making the whole visage forbidding, even sinister. It has authority, but of a daunting kind.

For the Vatican to commemorate a past pope with such an effigy is extraordinary; but then finding the right way to see a man who was known in his lifetime as "the most holy one" has been a perennial problem. When, on October 9, 1958, Pius XII died, he was immediately hailed by Catholics as a saint. "It was as though you were touching heaven with your little finger just to get an audience with him," a Vatican archivist has recalled. He was the object of praise, admiration, and gratitude. Then in 1960, as...

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About the Author

Richard Cohen is the author of By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions (Modern Library) and Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life. His new book, How To Write like Tolstoy, is due out next May from Random House.