Pius' role in the Holocaust deserves more scrutiny
The new captions at Yad Vashem send a clear message to the incumbent pope: Do not glamorize Pius XII before the Vatican reviews and publishes all documents concerning his activities during the Holocaust.
From the beginning, the Yad Vashem Museum was created to reflect Israel's official concept regarding the Holocaust, and obviously it serves as a justification of Zionist ideology and of the need to establish the State of Israel and guarantee its security. Almost sixty years later, the new museum, which opened in 2005 and was inspired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, presents the original political foundations in a new style: less indoctrination and more room for various points of view regarding numerous subjects, some of them sensitive and controversial.
At the entrance the visitor is greeted by an old clip of Jewish children in the Ukraine singing "Hatikva," the national anthem. The visit ends with the establishment of the State of Israel. Still, one notable difference is that the Arabs are no longer presented as Nazis: the placing of the 1941 photo of Hitler meeting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is no longer as accentuated as before. The museum has also adopted a neutral stance concerning the Nazi-established "Jewish Councils," otherwise known as Judenrat. The visitors can now draw up their judgment of the councils based on their activities in both the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos. The impression now is that the Judenrat leaders too, were victims of the Holocaust. Formerly, they were all considered villains.
One of the striking differences concerns the museum's depiction of Rejso, Israel Kestner, one the leaders of Hungarian Jewry. In 1955, an Israeli court ruled that Kestner had "sold his soul to the devil" after he was accused of being a Nazi collaborator. He was murdered two years later in Tel Aviv. Now, Kestner's contacts with the Nazis are depicted as praiseworthy actions that saved Jews. The change is due, partially, to the fact that Kestner's friend, Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, served as Yad Vashem's chairman. The wording under Kestner's photograph – as in all other captions in the museum – is formulated in an extremely cautious manner, weighing the meaning of every single word. The English version is slightly more positive than the Hebrew.
Many captions were dictated by diplomatic sensitivity, so as not to cause tension with foreign states. The lines dealing with the question of why the allies didn't bomb Auschwitz are more restrained than the more explicit criticism of the same issue in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The new captions dealing with Pope Pius XII, are 'cleaner,' and reflect a measure of openness and recognition of different opinions. Pius XII now receives a parcel of textual 'discounts': the new wording stresses the fact that the Reichskonkordat with Germany was signed before he was appointed, and deletes the former declaration that the accord was signed "even at the price of recognizing the Nazi regime." It does not mention that Pius XII shelved the prepared draft of an encyclical condemning racism, colonialism and anti-Semitism, drafted for Pius XI. If the Pope actually shelved such an encyclical, there's no reason to ignore it. The mention of his 1942 Christmas address and his appeals to the leaders of Hungary and Slovakia are relevant. Pius XII actually gains some points due to the detailed controversy surrounding his term.
Still, he isn't portrayed as a righteous man, but the issue calls for more study. Politically, the new captions send a clear Jewish and Israeli message to the incumbent pope, German-born Benedict XVI: Do not glamorize Pius XII before the Vatican reviews and publishes all documents concerning his activities during the Holocaust.