The reaction of the Christian churches to the Holocaust was ambiguous. Thousands of ordinary priests, monks and nuns sheltered Jews across Europe but almost all church leaders failed to publicly condemn the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII was regularly pressed by Allied governments and many Catholics to make a public statement. He finally addressed the issue in his Christmas radio broadcast in 1942. Towards the end of his lengthy speech, he called for a renewal of peace and Christian values in Europe.

Mankind owes that vow to the countless dead who lie buried on the field of battle: the sacrifice of their lives in the fulfilment of their duty is an offering for a new and better social order.

Mankind owes that vow to the infinite host of grieving mothers, widows and orphans who have seen the light, the solace and the support of their lives wrenched from them.

Mankind owes that vow to those numberless exiles whom the hurricane of war has uprooted from their native land and scattered in foreign lands; who can lament with the Prophet: "Our inheritance is turned to aliens; our house to strangers."

Mankind owes that vow to the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline.

Mankind owes that vow to the many thousands of non-combatants, women, children, sick and old, from whom aerial warfare – whose horrors we have from the beginning frequently denounced – has without discrimination or through inadequate precautions, taken life, property, health, home, houses of charity and prayer.

Mankind owes that vow to the flood of tears and bitterness, to the accumulation of sorrows and torment, emanating from the murderous ruin of the dreadful conflict and crying to Heaven to send down the Holy Spirit to liberate the world from the inundation of violence and terror.

Pius felt that he had clearly condemned the Holocaust in the fourth paragraph. However, he failed to make it clear that he was talking about Jews or Nazis, spoke of “hundreds of thousands of persons” rather than the more than 3 million Jews who had already been murdered, and spoke of them as just one group of the many casualties of the war, comparable to fallen soldiers or victims of air raids.

Photo: Pius XII; public domain

Broadcast extract: Vatican Archives (w2.vatican.va)