The Vatican in World War II: Dynamics and New Directions in Western Historiography

Publication type Article
Status Published
Affiliation: Brandeis University
Address: Waltham, Massachusets, USA
Affiliation: Institute of World History, RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Affiliation: Lomonosov Moscow State University
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameNovaia i noveishaia istoriia
EditionIssue 2

The article examines the historiography of the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, especially the phase that fell during the Second World War. Accusations that the Pope had not publicly condemned the crimes of Fascism and Nazism emerged in Soviet historiography shortly after the war and were faintly echoed by radical historiography in European countries. At the same time, an apologetic trend emerges in historiography. The situation changed dramatically with the publication and production of the play Der Stellvertreter. Ein christliches Trauerspiel (The Deputy, A Christian Tragedy also published in English as The Representative) by the German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, in which the Pope is accused of remaining silent in the face of the Nazi crimes. It marked the beginning of a critical trend in historiography. In historiography, a heated debate between the critical and apologetic ‘schools’ has been termed the “Pius War”. The revival of the critical movement has usually been associated with various politicised events such as the beatification process of Pius XII at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and a new step in that direction in 2009, namely the declaration of Pius XII venerable by Pope Benedict XVI, etc. At the same time, the introduction of new archival documents into scholarly discourse (in particular, the opening for academic examination of the collections of Pius XI and Pius XII in the Vatican Archives) has led to an enormous expansion and diversification of the source base. Studies have also demonstrated the need for a more active exploration and contextualisation of the policies of the Holy See during the war years. All this contributes to a more balanced and objective appraisal of these matters on the part of historians and political scientists.

KeywordsPius XII, Vatican, Holy See, World War II, Catholic Church, Holocaust, modern historiography
Acknowledgment This article is part of a project supported by the Russian Science Foundation (No. 19-18-00482), “Entangled Histories: Russia and the Holy See, 1917–1958”.
Publication date13.05.2022
Number of characters63249
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